Hate crime down in Winnipeg but many cases across Canada remain unsolved, data shows

Data released last week by Statistics Canada shows Winnipeg is bucking the trend when it comes to an increase in police-reported hate crime but the numbers also shed light on what happens to those reports once they’re investigated.

Fewer than a third of the cases across the country in 2020 have been solved, which some experts say highlights the difficulty in getting to the bottom of a hate crime cases. Cases such as one Winnipeg police are still investigating, stemming from an incident last summer.

In the early morning hours of July 21, 2021, several businesses — including a cafe and a craft brewery —located along Pembina Highway were vandalized with hateful symbols, including swastikas.

Winnipeg police have released photos and video of a suspect caught on camera spray-painting the window of one of the stores but eight months later officers confirmed no arrests have been made.

“When you’re going to work and you see something like that, in the beginning, it’s shocking,” said Mehdi Naghibzadeh, who owns Tehran Cafe, one of the numerous businesses that were vandalized.

He’s wondering if he’ll find out why someone vandalized his business, an incident police said they’re investigating as a hate crime.

“It was a bunch of different kinds of businesses and different backgrounds and so I have no idea why they did it,” Naghibzadeh said.

Officers said at the time it was being investigated as a hate crime because of the symbols used but it appeared the businesses had been hit randomly.

Still police called the incident concerning and the message it felt dangerous.

But when it comes to hate crime incidents actually reported to police in Winnipeg, the latest data from Statistics Canada shows a reduction in 2020: 28 incidents were reported to police compared to 41 in 2019 and 29 in 2018.

Michael Weinrath, a University of Winnipeg criminal justice professor, said the numbers are difficult to read into because hate crimes often overlap with other crimes.

“A violent crime or an aggressive crime could simply be classified as an assault and depending on the investigating officer or how it’s reported to the officer it may or may not be recorded as a hate crime,” Weinrath said.

Weinrath said hate crimes can also be difficult to solve. According to Stats Canada, 30 per cent of hate crime cases across Canada were solved in 2020, compared with a solve rate of 37 per cent for all crime incidents reported to police.

The clearance rate for non-violent hate crimes was 14 per cent compared with a clearance rate of 51 per cent for violent hate crimes.

“Often hate crimes are vandalism,” Weinrath said. “And those types of crimes — people are gone when you come back the next day or you come back home and those are difficult cases to solve.”

The Winnipeg Police Service said it has a hate crimes coordinator who works out of the Major Crimes Unit. Officers said the coordinator is responsible for monitoring all reported incidents of hate crime but can draw on other resources during investigations.

“Hate crime investigations are comprised of a number of Major Crimes Unit members, including the coordinator, eight detectives, and a staff sergeant,” the Winnipeg Police Service said in an email. “The coordinator can also draw on the entirety of the Major Crimes Unit (about 70 officers) for hate-related investigations. In addition, an Intelligence Officer and the Diversity and Crime Prevention Section (about 10 officers) can be utilized as well.”

“This approach provides the ability to deploy many resources for hate-related investigations.

Naghibzadeh remains hopeful the case will be solved but isn’t sure if he’ll ever get answers as to why someone vandalized his business. Given the broad range of businesses that were hit, he’d like to know.

“Whatever they meant to do, it worked opposite,” Naghibzadeh said.

He said that’s because his business got an outpouring support from the community and help to fix the damage.

Anyone with information on the vandalism can call the Major Crimes Unit at 204-986-6219 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-8477.

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