The Saskatoon police hate crimes unit reviewed twice as many incidents in 2023 as it did in 2022.

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The Saskatoon Police Service’s hate crime unit had a busy year in 2023, according to a report to this week’s meeting of the Saskatoon board of police commissioners.

The unit, which was first launched in 2022, reviewed almost double the number of files last year as it did in its first year of operation.

All told, the report states officers looked into 403 incidents, up from 208 recorded incidents in 2022. The main reason for the increase is attributed to “the establishment and continuous evolution” of the still relatively new unit, which has a sergeant review all files referred to it.

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The report notes any crime can be considered a hate crime if it’s motivated by “bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, or on any other similar factor.”

There are also specific, hate-related offences contained in the Code, including advocating genocide, public incitement of hatred, wilful promotion of hatred, wilful promotion of anti-Semitism and mischief to religious property.

Hate crime “is not clearly defined” in the federal Criminal Code, according to the report. This creates challenges with “reporting, coding, and tracking of potential hate crimes.”

The police department is taking part in a national effort to standardize terminology to align with agencies that track hate crimes, such as the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics and Statistics Canada.

Of the 403 incidents reviewed by the hate crime unit in 2023, 41 per cent were calls where patrol officers were dispatched and no further investigation was required. Occurrence reports were filed for 58 per cent of the incidents; these were then reviewed or investigated further by the hate crimes unit.

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Altogether, 64 of the 403 reported calls were considered to have met the bar to be classed as either a hate crime or a suspected hate crime.

Of these 64 incidents, 20 were suspected hate crimes while 36 were classified fully as hate crimes.

The remaining eight incidents were classified under the Criminal Code’s hate-related offences: one was an incident of advocating genocide, three were classed as public incitement of hatred and four were instances of mischief to religious property.

Charges were laid in 16 of the 64 incidents, with police recommending the Crown consider hate as an aggravating factor.

Incidents that resulted in charges and where hate was considered an aggravating factor included one incident of criminal harassment, one incident of disturbing the peace, an assault, an assault with a weapon and an assault on a peace officer.

Police are still waiting to learn whether the Crown will pursue hate as an aggravating factor in two cases of mischief, one robbery, an uttering threats charge, one mischief by graffiti incident, two assault charges and an assault on a peace officer.

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One case involving an incident of mischief was diverted from the courts, so hate was not considered an aggravating factor. The Crown did not pursue hate as an aggravating factor in one assault case and a charge of theft under $5,000.

The hate crime unit also reviewed 51 events that were considered criminal offences, but where hate was not viewed as an aggravating factor. Of these files, 12 resulted in police recommending against the Crown pursuing hate as an aggravating factor.

The report concludes by noting that the hate crime unit is “continuing to develop,” and will pursue initiatives including better collaboration with Crown prosecutors and ongoing efforts to integrate information and learning materials about hate crimes into day-to-day police operations.

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