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Special team to tackle hate crimes in Halton

Incidents have been on the rise across the region, with 78 reported last year
During a Halton police board meeting, Barbara Perry spoke at length about the need for a specialized team of EDI experts.

Rates of hate crimes in across the region are at the highest they have been in years, Halton's Police Services Board heard Friday morning. 

In 2019, there were 25 recorded incidents of hate crimes in Halton. That number jumped to 66 in 2020, and dropped slightly to 64 in 2021. During the June 2 session Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, said the number of hate crime incidents in Halton in 2022 was 78. 

Across Canada, there has been a 70 per cent increase in reported hate crimes since 2019. 

Halton Police are working with Perry to develop new methods of educating officers in hate crime response. 

“Contrary to recent suggested policy changes at the provincial level, I think it’s increasingly important that we have a well-educated police service and one that’s educated in EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) sentiments and values; one that provides a well-balanced education and recognizes the need for strong communication skills," said Perry.

Perry kicked off the police board meeting with a focus on equality, diversity and inclusion. More than half of Friday's meeting was devoted to Perry’s presentation and the discussion that followed. 

Together, Perry and the police are developing an integrated hate crime team that draws from officers from across Halton. 

A significant portion of what this new team will do is community outreach and education, specifically with new Canadians. 

“Not every person has the same experience with policing services as people who are attuned to them,” Perry said. “Our services have worked very hard to create a positive relationship with newcomers to Canada, from places where policing may be viewed differently.”

It’s key that those who have been with the service for some time already be retrained in proper EDI practices, and new hires are being targeted from schools that put emphasis on EDI as well, Perry said. As of last fall, hate crime training is required for all members of Halton police, and more plans are in motion to further officers education on hate crimes. 

“This fall, we’re running a symposium on hate crime specifically for our community partners,” Sgt. Ryan Smith, who runs the Halton police’s equity, diversity and inclusion office, said. “We expect 200 to 300 members of the community to attend, we’ll have subject matter experts educate them on current hate crime trends and their role in combating hate."

The presenters also noted the Criminal Code doesn't include a definition of a hate crime; as such, someone cannot be charged with it at a crime scene. The hate crime distinction is added during sentencing. 

“Crown attorneys prosecute all of our criminal charges,” Halton Police Chief Stephen Tanner said. “Within that arena, we need crown attorneys that are specially trained in hate crimes, and intimate partner violence.”

Perry added that crown attorneys in Ontario are currently working on that training.