Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
During the year, there were reports of various acts directed at religious groups, in particular anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim actions, including physical violence, vandalism, hate speech, violence, and harassment. In November Statistics Canada released hate crime statistics for 2017. It reported the number of religiously motivated police-reported hate crimes was 83 percent higher in 2017 than 2016, reaching a total of 842. Hate crimes targeting Muslims increased 151 percent (349), and hate crimes targeting Jews were up 63 percent (360). Statistics Canada reported hate crimes against Catholics and other religious groups also increased.
In March a defendant pled guilty to the 2017 killings of six men at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, according to media reports. The defendant said he planned the assault after hearing news that Canada was prepared to accept more refugees from Muslim countries. He said he believed that Muslims posed a threat to his family’s safety. In June government prosecutors recommended the country’s longest sentence in history, 150 years, but the court had not yet handed down the sentence as of the end of the year.
In July two men attacked a Muslim man in Mississauga, Ontario, as the man and his family were leaving a picnic. According to media reports, the assailants yelled religious and ethnic slurs at the family, before punching the victim in the face and kicking him when he fell to the ground. The victim suffered facial fractures and required surgery to stop brain hemorrhaging. Police investigated the case as a hate crime and arrested two men for assault. The case was pending as of the end of the year.
In February an Ontario Jewish community center received anti-Semitic hate mail similar to messages sent to several local synagogues in late 2017. The flyers said it was “Expulsion History Month,” asked “how many times have you been expelled?” and called to “Expel the Jews to the Lake of Fire!” Police launched an investigation but made no arrests as of the end of the year.
In January on the one-year anniversary of a fatal Quebec mosque shooting, worshippers arriving at an Ottawa mosque found hate messages bearing white supremacist slogans and pictures of Hitler posted on the mosque door and walls, according to media reports. One of the posters bore the phrase, “There is no god but Hitler, and we are his prophets.” Police investigated the hate messages but made no arrests as of the end of the year.
In 2017, the most recent year for which there were statistics, the B’nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights reported 16 cases of anti-Semitic violence. There were 327 reports of vandalism, including the painting of swastikas on buildings, up 107 percent from 2016, accounting for 19 percent of all anti-Semitic reported cases; other categories included harassment and violence. The league received 1,752 reports of anti-Semitic cases in 2017, compared with 1,728 cases in 2016. Approximately 80 percent of the occurrences (1,409) involved harassment. The greatest number of reports (808) came from Ontario, where 13 of the cases involving violence occurred.
Media reported in April that residents of the Ontario town of Puslinch petitioned a provincial court to intervene in the proposed renaming of a street in their town called “Swastika Trail,” according to media reports. A group of residents launched a campaign in the fall of 2017 to change the name, based on its link to Hitler, the Nazi party, and white supremacism. Others objected, on the basis that they would incur personal expense to change the address on all of their personal documentation, and also on the grounds that the street was named in the 1920s, when they said the swastika was linked to peace. A local association sponsored a vote, and residents voted by a slim margin to keep the name. Two residents who supported the name change then sought judicial review; the case was pending at year’s end.
According to media reports, in January the Royal Canadian Legion in Tignish, Prince Edward Island, asked two Sikh men to remove their head coverings when entering Legion premises. The men explained they were wearing the items for religious reasons; they said authorities told them they must follow the Legion’s rules, regardless of their religious beliefs. Other patrons of the Legion reportedly told them they were not welcome in Canada and should return to their “own countries.” The president of the Tignish Legion subsequently apologized and committed to providing additional training and education for his staff to prevent similar occurrences from happening in the future.
According to an Angus Reid Institute survey, approximately 40 percent of the first- and second-generation respondents said Canada more fully respected religious freedom than did their home country; approximately 40 percent said it was at a similar level.
Numerous interfaith and ecumenical organizations at the national, provincial, and local levels continued to sponsor programs to foster respect for religious diversity, tolerance, and equal treatment for all religious groups. The groups included the Canadian Council of Churches, United Church of Canada, Catholic Church, the Salvation Army, other Protestant communities, as well as Jewish and Muslim associations. The Canadian Interfaith Conversation is a collaboration of 41 faith communities and faith-based organizations that collectively “advocate[s] for religion in a pluralistic society and in Canadian public life.” It spotlighted religious inclusion events held across the country throughout the year on its website.