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Toronto seeing dramatic spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, new police data says


Toronto seeing dramatic spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, new police data says

Toronto continues to see a dramatic rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, including hate-fuelled attacks where the victim was punched, spat on or blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new police data.

Last year was the second in a row that Toronto police have reported a significant rise in overall hate-motivated verbal threats, physical assaults and vandalism, a trend that has also seen a high number of incidents of anti-Black racism and the continued targeting of the city’s Jewish community.

More than two years into the coronavirus pandemic, which has spawned a surge in anti-Asian attacks worldwide, COVID-19 remains a “key” contributing factor for hate crime locally, Toronto police said in a new report released Monday.

“In 2021, the global coronavirus health crisis and geopolitical events are believed to be key contributing factors to the increase in hate crime reporting,” reads the report, which will be presented to the city’s police board next week.

“We don’t feel safe, and we haven’t for a really long time,” said Jennifer Vong, a co-ordinator with the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, a grassroots advocacy organization that Vong says hears reports of anti-Asian hate crimes “almost weekly.”

“The discrimination that we face is always the same, which is the hatefulness of racism.”

In particular, the city saw a “notable” increase in anti-Asian hate crime in March 2021, a phenomenon that Toronto police note coincided with a March 16, 2021, mass shooting in Atlanta, where the majority of victims gunned down inside three massage parlours were Asian women.

The rise in anti-Asian incidents contributed to the highest ever number of hate crimes where the victim was targeted based on their ethnic or national origin, statistics Toronto police began collecting in 1993.

Toronto police categorize hate-motivated incidents as being ethnic or national in nature when victims are targeted “based on their perceived cultural traditions or on their perceived country of origin,” according to the report.

The city reported 57 such incidents in 2021 — a sharp rise from just 17 in 2019 — and East and Southeast Asians were the victims in 41 of those occurrences.

(The report counts crimes motivated by racial or religious hate, such as against Black, Jewish or Muslim victims, in separate categories).

That increase still likely only represents a fraction of the true problem, Toronto police and anti-racism groups say.


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“Despite community outreach efforts and investigative successes, under-reporting continues to present a challenge,” police say in the report, noting reluctance in reporting hate crimes includes fear of retaliation from the perpetrator and a belief that the offence isn’t serious enough to report.

Toronto police’s hate crime unit recorded a total of 257 hate-motivated occurrences in 2021, a 22 per cent increase over 2020, which itself saw an “unprecedented” 50 per cent increase in reported hate crimes. Both figures sit well above Toronto’s 10-year average of 163 annual occurrences.

Overall, the most common motivation for reported hate crimes in 2021 was religious identity (29 per cent), ethnic or national origin (22 per cent) and race (21 per cent).

The most victimized groups were members of the Jewish community (22 per cent), Black people (18 per cent) and East and Southeast Asian communities (16 per cent).

In 12 per cent of cases, the victim was categorized as “multi-bias,” meaning they may have been targeted for more than one thing, such as being Black and LGBTQ.

Toronto police saw a jump in hate-fuelled assaults in 2021 — up to 86 from 50 in 2020 — with East and South Asian people being the most victimized group, followed by members of the Black community.

In all of these incidents, police said victims were subject to “derogatory comments” and either punched, pushed, or spat on by the suspect during the assault. In four hate-motivated assault occurrences, the suspects “expressed blame on China for the COVID-19 pandemic,” police said.

Last year, amid a rise in anti-Black hate crime incidents that included nooses hung at construction sites across the city, Toronto police initiated a special project to combat anti-Black hate crimes.

But in 2021, members of the Black community remained the most victimized group targeted for their race, accounting for the vast majority of racially motivated incidents — 47 of 54 occurrences.

The three most frequently reported criminal offences motivated by hate in 2021 were mischief to property, assault, and uttering threats. Mischief to property, such as vandalism and graffiti, accounted for nearly half of the incidents and occurred at locations including schools and businesses. Most often, the targets were the Jewish and Black communities, according to the report.

Last month, a report from the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter found a 47 per cent increase in hate crimes against Asian Canadians in 2021 over 2020, including reports of assaults such as being coughed at or spat on.

“Even as the pandemic evolves, Asian Canadians are still living with the consequences of misguided anger and anti-Asian racism, especially the most vulnerable groups, such as women, children and youth,” Jessie Tang, the organization’s executive director, said last month.

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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