On the night of February 21, 2010, two brothers in the Nova Scotia Annapolis valley erected a 2.5 meter cross on the lawn of an interracial couple and set it on fire. The couple and their daughter reported seeing a noose around the cross and also heard racial slurs coming from the offenders.

This incident is just one of many hate crimes that have happened in Canada and continue to happen even in the 21st century. This case in particular set a benchmark for hate crimes, as cross burning had never before been deemed a hate crime in a criminal court. The first brother sentenced received 4 months for inciting racial hatred and 6 months for criminal harassment, as well as 2.5 years of probation and 50 hours of community service. The other brother received 2 months for inciting racial hatred and criminal harassment and 2.5 years of probation.

What is a Hate Crime?

There are some key differences between a “hate” crime and a “normal” crime. These differences do not necessarily come from the criminal act (although they can, as was seen in the opening vignette), but from the motivations behind the crime. The difference lies in the group affiliations of the victim (ex. gay, Jewish, black etc.). For example, if a man were to assault his boss because he was fired, that man may have been motivated by hatred towards his boss for firing him but that crime would not be considered a hate crime. If that same man were to assault his boss because he discovered that his boss was homosexual, that crime would be considered a hate crime.

There has been a lot of debate among legal scholars as to how to precisely define a hate crime. Perhaps the most inclusive and agreed upon definition is the one given by Dr. Barbra Perry of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. She describes in her book, In the Name of Hate: Understanding Hate Crimes, that hate crimes, “involve acts of violence and intimidation, usually directed towards already stigmatized and marginalized groups.” She also illustrates that a hate crime is one which uses power and oppression to reinforce the’ hierarchies in a given society by attempting to ensure domination or control by the perpetrator’s group and subordination of the victims. Essentially, Perry states that hate crimes are a means of “marking both the Self and the Other in such a way as to re-establish their ‘proper’ relative positions, as given and reproduced by broader ideologies and patterns of social and political inequality” (p.10). As you can see from this description, hate crimes are much more than crimes that are simply motivated by hate. They do involve the motivations of the perpetrator, but also the affiliations of the victim. They involve social and political influences and ideologies, many of which may have been rooted in the history of our country for centuries.

There are 2 sections in the Criminal Code of Canada that speak to hate crimes. The first is section 318 which addresses the crime of advocating for genocide. In this section, genocide is defined as “any… acts committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part an identifiable group (by) killing members of the group or by deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life that would bring about its physical destruction.” Under § 318, anyone who advocates or promotes genocide is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for 5 years or less. The second section, which is more often evoked in the criminal justice system, speaks to the offence of public incitement of hatred. The two brothers in the opening vignette were charged with this offence. This section of the Criminal Code reads:

Public incitement of hatred

  • 319. (1) Everyone who, by communicating statements in any public place, incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace is guilty of
    1. an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or
    2. an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Wilful promotion of hatred

  • (2) Everyone who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, willfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty of
    1. an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or
    2. an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Additionally, the Canadian Human Rights Act also defines a hate crime. Section 3 states that the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, and conviction for which a pardon has been granted; essentially, if a crime is committed against a person for one or more of these reasons (ex. the victim is female, or homosexual, or of East Indian origin) it is considered a hate crime. The Canadian Human Rights Act also specifically addresses the issue of hate in section 13. In this section, it is stated that:

13. (1) It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination [those mentioned above].

While these definitions may differ in their specific criteria, both academics and legal bodies agree that hate crimes are those which are committed against an identifiable person or group of people because of their identification with that group. Hate crimes are an extreme form of discrimination and can be commited by anyone, against anyone.

Who is the Target of Hate Crimes?

Anyone who is victimized on the basis of their membership with an identifiable group is the victim of a hate crime. If you identify yourself as a Jewish person and you are assaulted because of this you are then considered to be a victim of a hate crime. Similarly, if a person were to vandalize your property with spray-paint swastikas or other anti-ethnic symbols you would also be considered to be a victim of a hate crime. The most likely targets of hate crimes are racial minorities and people who identify as having a sexual orientation that is not strictly heterosexual. However, people who identify with other groups can also be victimized by a hate motivated offender.

In 2008, Statistics Canada released the results of the Hate Crime Supplemental Survey which reported on the prevalence of hate crimes in Canada. It is important to note here that the statistics reported were obtained from police services and therefore only include the crimes which were reported to police. These statistics likely underestimate the actual number of hate crimes perpetrated in Canada, as many people choose to not report them. Black was the most commonly targeted racial group, comprising 4 in 10 hate crimes. The next most commonly targeted racial group was East Indian and Pakistani, who were the target of 12% of the racially motivated hate crimes. Additionally, Statistics Canada reported that the Jewish faith was the most commonly targeted religion, with two-thirds of all religiously motivated hate crimes being committed against people of the Jewish faith. The third most prevalent (but the most violent) hate crimes reported were those motivated by prejudice towards people with a certain sexual orientation. 75% of these crimes were violent, compared to 38% of racially motivated and 25% of religiously motivated hate crimes.

Who Commits Hate Crimes?

Just as anyone can be a victim of a hate crime, anyone can also be a perpetrator. The offenders can be either adults or youths and the crimes premeditated or of opportunity. An extreme example was the “London nail bomber,” David Copeland, who filled homemade bombs with nails and placed them in communities highly populated by blacks, Bangladeshis, and homosexuals in London, England. Copeland, who killed 3 people and injured 126 with his bombs, was reported to have been a member of the far-right British National Party, a leader in the National Socialist Movement, and admitted to holding neo-Nazi views. He reported that he was hoping to start a ‘racial war’ by setting off the bombs, which were detonated over a period of 3 weekends. While this crime was very violent in nature, a large number of hate crimes do not involve this level of violence.

Statistics Canada, using data from the General Social Survey of 2004 and the Hate Crime Supplemental Survey of 2006, reports that the large majority of perpetrators of hate crimes are males between the ages of 12-24 years old. The perpetrators of these crimes tended to be strangers to their victims; 77% of victims of police reported hate crimes did not know their attacker, compared to 33% of all other victims of violent crimes.

Hate crimes, while often committed by individuals, are also supported by different groups and organizations. Some examples of hate groups known in Canada include:

  • The Aryan Guard
  • The Canadian Heritage Alliance
  • Northern Alliance
  • Heritage Front
  • Freedomsite.org
  • Western Canada For Us
  • Stormfront Canada
  • Canadian Association for Free Expression (CAFÉ)
  • Canadian Ethnic Cleansing Team

These groups mainly advocate for “white rights” and believe that the European culture needs to be protected and preserved against other races, ethnicities, and religions. The following quote, obtained from a forum off of The Canadian Heritage Alliance website, was also introduced into evidence in Warman v. Guille and The Canadian Heritage Alliance, a case in which the administrator of the Canadian Heritage Alliance website was ordered to “cease the discriminatory practice of communicating…material of the type that was found to violate… section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act.”. The quote from the forum is from an anonymous mediator who goes by the screen name of Kwazimodo:

“When a superior race breeds with an inferior race, then the outcome may be superior to the inferior race but must be inferior to the superior race. Once you go black, you can never go back.”

While this quote does not itself necessarily constitute a hate crime, it is easy to see how this type of thinking is prejudicial towards a certain group and how such ideas can be perceived as legitimate when they are facilitated by an organization.

Free Speech

Many hate groups argue “free speech” to defend the things that they say against identifiable groups as legal. Fortunately, free speech in Canada is governed by the interaction of 3 pieces of legislation; the provisions of the Criminal Code mentioned above, Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and sections 12 and 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Section 12 of the Canadian Human Rights Act states:

  • (12) It is a discriminatory practice to publish or display before the public or to cause to be published or displayed before the public any notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that
    1. expresses or implies discrimination or an intention to discriminate, or
    2. incites or is calculated to incite others to discriminate
  • if the discrimination expressed or implied, intended to be expressed or implied or incited or calculated to be incited would otherwise, if engaged in, be a discriminatory practice described in any of sections 5 to 11 or in section 14.

Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states:

  • (2) Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
    1. freedom of conscience and religion;
    2. freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
    3. freedom of peaceful assembly; and
    4. freedom of association.

It is important to note here that while all of these freedoms are protected by the Charter for all Canadians, they are also subject to reasonable limits that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. What this means is that each and every Canadian has the fundamental freedoms listed above, except when they are abused and used to harm other people. Essentially, in private conversation Canadians can say whatever they like, but in a public setting they are bound by the provisions of the Canadian Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act to not promote hatred against an identifiable group in any way.

Victims of Hate Crimes

Statistics Canada reported that according to the general social survey in 2004, the psychological impacts of crime tend to be more severe when the incident is motivated by hate. This report has been substantiated by many professionals who work with victims of hate crime, and also by empirical evidence. While most victims of hate crimes tend to experience greater psychological impacts of the crime committed against them, the exact experiences differ based on the type of hate motivation (race, religion, sexual orientation etc.). A study completed by Gregory Koch at the Alliant International University in San Diego found that there were 6 major areas in which hate crime victimization impacted gay men who had been physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation. For these victims, he reported (Koch, 2003).

  1. a loss of the illusion of control and a sense of helplessness/powerlessness appeared to result from the hate crime experience;
  2. traumatic triggers/re-experiencing; which involved systems of traumatic re-experiencing (flash-backs) of the hate crime brought on by environmental triggers;
  3. blame, which they used as a defence mechanism to replace responsibility for some portion of the hate crime experience;
  4. availability of social supports and whether or not they took advantage of these supports;
  5. their coping strategies, including affective, behavioural, and cognitive tactics used to cope with the hate crime and its aftermath, and
  6. alterations to gay identity, which included changes related to individual and group-based gay identity.

It is easy to see how profoundly the perpetrators of hate crimes impact their victims and how wide ranging their effect can be as a result of that victimization from these findings. In a 2003 article, Craig-Henderson and Sloan discussed the consequences of being the victim of hate crime. The study reported that victims of hate crime often experience their victimization more acutely than do other victims. The psychological problems which occur as a result of their victimization are wide ranging but profound, as many victims of hate crimes see their victimization as an attack on a central part of their identity. Hate crime victimization resonates deeply with the victims’ ideas of self, community, and security, and can therefore be very psychologically debilitating (Craig-Henderson & Sloan, 2003).

Speaking specifically of racially motivated hate crimes, although it is easy to draw inferences from their statements to generalize to most other hate crimes, Craig-Henderson & Sloan report that victims of these crimes are different than other victims of crime in two important ways. The first difference involves beliefs about the likelihood that the incident “could have happened to anyone.” They report that after feeling the initial shock of their victimization, victims of hate crimes begin to realize what actually happened to them and they start to recognize that they were victimized because of their race. They state that “this clearly distinguishes the racist [this notion could also be applied to religious, ethnic, sexual orientation etc. hate crimes as well] hate crime from victims of other types of crime. Whereas victims of other types of crimes are encouraged to take comfort in knowing that what happened to them could have happened to anyone, victims of racist hate crimes must recognize that what happened to them could have happened only because of their race, visible and easily identifiable” (p. 484).

The second difference reported by Craig-Henderson and Sloan (2003) is in regard to stereotypes. Victims of racially motivated crimes are distinguished from other victims because they are almost always members of extremely negatively stereotyped or stigmatized groups. Often, these stereotypes may serve to motivate offenders and to justify their aggression. Additionally, because victims of racist hate crimes are often the targets of extremely negative stereotypes, these victims may feel particularly powerless as a result of their perceived misfortune (Craig-Henderson & Sloan, 2003).


Hate crimes are motivated by prejudice and hate towards a person or persons of an identifiable group (based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, etc). They are committed because of the membership of the victim to that group, and can be committed by virtually anyone. Often times, perpetrators of hate crimes act individually, but can also be members of hate groups who support their actions. Perpetrators sometimes attempt to rationalize their offences on the basis of free speech and freedom of expression, and stereotype, however, publicly inciting or promoting hatred is a crime under Canadian law. Victims of hate crimes often experience heightened levels of psychological distress as a result of their victimization. If you believe that you have been victimized because of you identification with a certain group, you should bring this information to the attention of the authorities. You should also contact your local victim services agency, as they will be able to help you through your victimization more readily.

Canadian Human Rights Act, R.S.C., 1985: Sections 12 and 13.

Criminal Code of Canada. 2011.Sections 318 and 319.

CBC News. March 21, 2010. Protesters, neo-Nazis Clash at Racism Rally. http://www.cbc.ca/canada/calgary/story/2010/03/21/calgary-anti-racism-protest.html

CBC News. Monday January 10, 2011. Cross burner gets 2 more months jail time.


Craig-Henderson, K., & Sloan, L. R. (2003). After the hate: Helping psychologists help victims of racist hate crime. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(4), 481-490. doi:10.1093/clipsy/bpg048

Dauvergne, M., Scrim, K., & Brennan, S. Canadian Center for Justice Statistics. 2006. Hate Crime in Canada http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85f0033m/85f0033m2008017-eng.pdf

Global Montreal. Tuesdeay January 11, 2011. Second man sentenced for cross burning. http://www.globalmontreal.com/world/Second+sentenced+cross+burning/4091327/story.html

Koch, G. E. (2003). Hate violence and victimization: The experience and perceived impact on gay men. ProQuest Information & Learning). Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 64(3-B), 1496-1496. (Electronic; Print) Retrieved from www.csa.com. (2003-95018-236)

Media Awareness Network. Is Your Child a Target? http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/online_hate/upload/Is_Your_Child_a_Target_bnaibrith_2006_09.pdf

Media Awareness Network. Criminal Code of Canada: Hate Crime Provisions- Summary. http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/resources/legislation/canadian_law/federal/criminal_ code/criminal_code_hate.cfm

Media awareness Network. Online Hate and The Law. http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/ issues/online_hate/when_is_hate_a_crime.cfm

Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Statistics Canada. 2008. Police Reported Hate Crime. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/100614/dq100614b-eng.htm

Warman v. Guille and The Canadian Heritage Alliance, [2008], CHRT 40. http://www.chrt-tcdp.gc.ca/search/view_html.asp?doid=936&lg=_e&isruling=0