Skip to main content

A string of incidents over the past year at the headquarters of a Muslim charity in Surrey, B.C., are not being investigated as hate crimes by the local RCMP detachment, even as a national Muslim organization says nearby businesses and organizations are not being similarly targeted by vandals and thieves.

Nusaiba Al-Azem, a lawyer for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, accused the RCMP of indifference, saying the force is refusing to determine that bias against Muslims could have been a factor in five attempted break-ins, an attempted arson and several acts of vandalism at the charity’s building.

The Globe and Mail is not naming the charity because the group fears being targeted for further harassment. The national council spoke on its behalf.

The charity has signage with the word “Muslim” and a stylized minaret logo. Ms. Al-Azem added that buildings with no Muslim affiliation in the neighbourhood, which is known as Whalley, have not had these types of problems.

“In the Muslim community, they feel overpoliced and underprotected,” she said. Her organization runs its own hate crime hotline and helps victims across the country report incidents to their local police at least once a week.

Surrey RCMP confirmed they had opened two cases related to attempted break-ins at the charity’s headquarters, and one related to theft – all in February and March. But investigators found little evidence, no suspects and no “obvious signs of hate crimes” such as racist remarks or graffiti, the Mounties said in an e-mailed statement.

The force confirmed that none of the case files mention hate or bias as possible motives. “That said, we hear the concerns raised by the organization and understand their frustration with these property crimes,” the statement said.

The latest incident police appear to be investigating, Ms. Al-Azem said, is a theft that happened on March 7, when two masked men were recorded just before dawn stealing the charity’s outdoor security camera for the second time in the past year.

Ms. Al-Azem said it is disturbing that the Mounties don’t have files open for two incidents reported by the charity last year, in June and November.

“We were told that they weren’t flagged for hate crime, and it likely could be related to being in a high-crime neighbourhood,” Ms. Al-Azem said. “Obviously, it does not instill much confidence that safety or security is prioritized for the community.”

The Surrey RCMP said its Diversity and Indigenous Peoples Unit will be reaching out to the charity and reviewing the cases to “ensure we have not missed anything, and ensure they are being supported.”

Asked about stepping up patrols near the group’s headquarters, the force said it already has a large presence in the area.

A Globe and Mail analysis of the performance of Canada’s 13 largest municipal and regional police forces over eight years found the average rates at which individual forces solved hate crimes by charging perpetrators varied from a low of 6 per cent to a high of 28 per cent.

In most hate-related cases – upward of 90 per cent in some cities – the offender is first charged with a core offence, such as assault or vandalizing property, rather than one of the four hate crimes defined in the Criminal Code. The offender’s motivation for committing the core crime is supposed to be factored in at sentencing, when a judge can hand down a stiffer penalty if the court finds hate was a factor. But this rarely happens, according to a 2020 Department of Justice study, as well as current and former investigators.

In its initial investigation, The Globe did not publish data from provincial police services, such as the Sûreté du Québec and the Ontario Provincial Police, because each of them serves dozens of communities spread across vast swaths of territory. This makes them difficult to compare with their local counterparts, which serve smaller, more densely populated areas.

In B.C., dozens of RCMP detachments are contracted to patrol cities and towns. The data show the RCMP in those communities laid charges in just 8 per cent of hate crime cases from 2013 to 2020.

The RCMP’s only hate crimes unit in the country usually consists of two officers based at its regional headquarters in Surrey. In a statement, the Surrey detachment said if a front-line Mountie flags a case in Surrey as being potentially motivated by hate, the officer in charge of the detachment personally reviews the file.

In the last four months of 2021, Surrey RCMP investigated five hate-related cases, the statement said.

Corporal Anthony Statham, who helmed the provincial hate crimes unit for five years before moving on to another position with the force a week ago, said the unit does daily, weekly and monthly audits of all RCMP cases in which hate could be a factor, to ensure they are being identified and tracked by Mounties properly.

He noted that the criminal justice system only recently began viewing non-religious buildings as being captured by the Code’s hate crimes provisions against mischief to certain religious, administrative or cultural properties used by identifiable groups.

Cpl. Statham could not say when he would be replaced as leader of the provincial hate crimes unit. Despite an upward trend in the number of hate crime cases reported by police, the unit’s staffing level has remained the same since its inception in 1996, when it was formed in response to a rise in neo-Nazi attacks on Canada’s West Coast.

Surrey is in the midst of replacing the local RCMP detachment with a municipal police force. It is unknown whether the new department will create a stand-alone hate crimes unit or train specialists to investigate such crimes.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.