And now many people are debating whether protests like the recent ones against Islam in Montreal and Toronto, are lawful or whether they should be considered hate crimes. A few weeks, ago I was on CTV’s ‘Your Morning’ to discuss the recent spike in high profile hate crimes after the Quebec City mosque shooting.
One major problem facing any discussion of hate crimes is that they are difficult to pinpoint. We live in a country where we may protest about our beliefs, without fear of imprisonment. For instance, recently in Toronto, there were protests about the ban on Islam outside a mosque. No one was arrested.
You may ask – what is the difference between a lawful protest and a hate crime? The answer is motive. Motive is when you commit a crime towards one person or community because of the group that he or she is a member of. That is defined as hate. So for instance if the protests about the ban on Islam outside a mosque included stating that Muslims should be killed – we can safely assume that is hate speech.
It is very difficult to show motive. The main reason is that we can never be certain about what is going on in a perpetrator’s head or narrow down their motivations to a single cause. Some motives such as spray painting a swastika in a temple are obvious. Others such as vandalizing a vehicle that belongs to a Muslim family are not as obvious.
The Trudeau government has also entered the fray with respect to hate crimes. Recently, there was a public dispute between the Liberal government and the Conservative opposition about the best way to tackle Islamophobia. No matter what side of the political debate you may lean towards, it is important for the country to have an informed public debate about these uncomfortable topics to ensure that the government comes up with a sensible policy protecting the rights of everybody.
Currently in Canada, hate crimes are often criminal matters. If you believe that you are the victim of a hate crime, it is important that you report the incident. Law enforcement will determine how to investigate the incident and police may charge the perpetrator and he or she may even stand trial and be convicted eventually.
However, the criminal process can often be frustrating for the victim who is unlikely to have much real input or recourse other than helping law enforcement with the investigation and potentially obtaining an abstract sense of justice by seeing the perpetrator convicted.
Some of you may ask, is there something else we can do, a potential civil recourse? The simple answer to your question is, it is unclear. At present, you cannot sue for money due to a hate crime. However, motive may be considered if you sue for instance, harassment.
The good news is that the law is a living organism which is always changing and expanding. Every so often, the courts add reforms to the law regarding existing reasons that you may sue. Thus, if hate crimes continue to be more prevalent in the public’s consciousness it can be expected that the courts will ultimately allow the victim to pursue a just civil recourse which could at least try to compensate him for the grave injustice he incurred.