A watchdog group has said that Catholics in Canada suffered the largest spike in religion-based hate crimes last year, and government officials must take action in response.

Newsroom (07/08/2022 6:29 PM Gaudium PressAccording to crime figures from Canada’s national statistical office, Statistics Canada, the number of incidents targeting Catholics increased more than 260% between 2020 and 2021.

“Undoubtedly, this increase can be attributed to attacks on Catholic churches in Canada in 2021 including the deliberate burning down of churches,” the Toronto-based Catholic Civil Rights League stated on Aug. 4. 

“Mainstream media has reported the overall 27 percent increase, but the most staggering of all increases, the 260% rise in anti-Catholic hate crimes, has been largely ignored.”

On Aug. 2, the office released a comprehensive report on police-reported crime in 2021. The report’s figures for police-reported hate crimes by detailed motivation show the major increase in crimes targeting Catholics. By comparison, from 2020 to 2021, crimes targeting Muslims increased by 71%, while crimes targeting Jews increased by 47%. Crimes targeting “other religions” increased by 60%.

There were 43 recorded hate crimes against Catholics in 2020, escalating to 155 in 2021.

Reported crimes against Jews in 2021 totalled 487, while reported crimes against Muslims numbered 144.

It is unknown how many incidents were not reported to police or the national statistics office. The 2019 General Social Survey on Canadians’ Safety indicated that only about 22% of perceived hate crimes were reported to the police.

The Aug. 2 Canada Statistics report noted that crime figures depend on police reporting and only reflect incidents reported to the police and subsequently classified as hate crimes. Changes in reported hate crime figures could reflect an actual increase in crime or also changes in reporting by the public due to factors including “heightened sensitivity after high-profile events.”

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The Catholic Civil Rights League also collects reports of anti-Catholic crimes. The league says that the period of May through August of 2021 saw more attacks on Catholic churches in Canada than any other period.

“Our politicians must speak out against this alarming trend and law enforcement officials must vigorously investigate all incidents of hate crimes against Catholics and charge those responsible,” the organization said.

The league maintains a Church Attacks Database on its website and accepts incident reports from the public. The database records incidents ranging in severity from breaking stained-glass windows to acts of desecration and church burnings. The league aims to maintain a database of arrests and convictions in such incidents.

“We will follow through to make sure that law enforcement responds with vigor to this alarming trend in anti-Catholic violence,” the league said.

The Catholic Civil Rights League was founded in 1985. It describes itself as an independent lay organization with a large national membership. Its chaplain is Archbishop Emeritus Adam Exner of Vancouver.

In November 2021, the league noted the “surge” in attacks against churches followed initial reports starting in May 2021 of possible unmarked graves on the property of former residential schools for indigenous Canadians, run by Catholic and Protestant entities under the supervision of the federal government.

The initial claims about the graves rely on the analysis of ground penetrating radar findings and have yet to be confirmed by exhumation and other research. It is also possible that the graves are from community graveyards and include remains of non-students and non-indigenous peoples of the area, including residential school staff and their families.

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Sarah Beaulieu, the anthropologist who performed the initial radar testing near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia in July 2021, characterized the 215 radar signatures as “probable burials” and “targets of interest.” The use of a ground detecting radar at the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan reportedly detected 751 graves.

News reports erroneously depicted the possible graves as “mass graves” and often failed to clarify that the findings had not been confirmed. The reports appeared to have motivated church burnings and other vandalism.

– Raju Hasmukh

(Via CNA)