Flames engulf St. Jean Baptiste Church in Morinville, Alberta, June 30, 2021, in this still image taken form video obtained from social media. CNS photo/Diane Burrel, social media via Reuters

Canada falling into anti-faith hatred

  • March 24, 2023

Why do we hate one another? Why do wait hate those who are unlike us in what they believe, how they act, or in how God Himself made them? The simple answer is because of the effects of the First Sin, the Fall, through which we became subject to sin, death and corruption. While Our Lord Jesus Christ through His passion, death and resurrection has conquered these effects, we are still prone to sin. Hate is a particular ugly manifestation of the effects of the Fall. 

Hate exists in every human society including in democratic and pluralist Canada. Sadly, hate directed towards certain groups in this country has been on the rise for the better part of a decade according to statistics reported by over 200 police forces to Statistics Canada’s Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCRS). 

A recent study I was part of with the non-partisan Christian think-tank Cardus highlights this worrying trend of escalating hatred, specifically anti-religious hatred. “Toward a Hopeful Future” presents analysis as to why anti-religious hate crimes are on the rise and what action can be taken. But what is a hate crime, and conversely, what is not?

The Criminal Code of Canada enumerates that any a criminal violation police determine to be motivated by hate can be subject to harsher penalties. Hate can be motivated by a person’s race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or a factor such as profession or political beliefs. 

The Cardus report emphasizes that “hate crimes are not a distinct kind of crime but rather a crime with a distinct kind of motivation toward victims with perceived characteristics or identity markers.” What is clear is that a hate crime is a criminal violation. Unfortunately, the stark reality in our increasingly polarized society is that there are those among our fellow citizens who include as hate disagreement on matters of politics, morality, ethics, or theology. Such is the narrowed discourse of woke secularism, and the Cardus report is a wake-up call. 

In 2007, the UCRS documented 415 anti-religious hate crimes. In 2017, this had more than doubled to 842. By 2021, the number had increased further to almost 900.  The group consistently facing disproportionate hatred is Jews. Jews are consistently targeted more than Muslims, Christians, Sikhs or any other religious group. 

In 2017, 350 anti-Semitic hate crimes were reported; in 2021 there were 500. In addition to highlighting anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hatred, the report cites the shocking 360 per cent increase in anti-Catholic hate crimes, from 43 reported attacks in 2020 to 155 such incidents in 2021. This increase tracks with the spate of church burnings and vandalism of Catholic churches after the Kamloops residential school controversy. 

Based on their research on Canadians’ attitudes to religion undertaken in partnership with the Angus Reid Institute (ARI), Cardus highlights that there is a growing amnesia about the presence of religious people in Canadian society. We all witnessed the failure among public health officials and provincial politicians to grasp the centrality of public worship and how it informs and impels the faithful to corporal works of mercy that benefit all. Yet there is not only an ignorance of religious faith and its motivation, but a growing belief that certain faith communities are damaging to Canadian society. 

In a presentation of survey data that draws on several polls with sample sizes ranging from 1,290 to 5,000, Cardus and ARI have shown that 61 per cent of those who identify as non-religious view Catholicism as damaging to Canadian society. Evangelical Protestants shared an even worse fate with 76 per cent of our fellow citizens on the more secular side of belief viewing Evangelical beliefs as damaging. What has come of us?

While we cannot necessarily draw a direct cause-and-effect relationship between these survey results and hate crime statistics, it is reasonable to infer that an increasing numbers of people seeing our beliefs as Catholics as damaging to society can lead to greater anti-Catholic bigotry. Hate ultimately undermines human community and blinds people in the gravest way possible to the dignity of the human person in front of them. 

Our political, media and business leaders need to do more to speak out against hate and not equivocate or turn a blind eye when it manifests itself. As Catholics, we need to do more to engage our society with a confidence, a humble-mindedness and a joy that counteracts hate and the ignorance that breeds it.

 (Rev. Andrew Bennett is a deacon of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada.)

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