Hate-motivated crime data collection being strengthened as Muslim leaders demand action

We record where a traffic accident occurs. We record the number of burglaries reported by victims. We record how many drivers zoom through red traffic lights. 

Trends in that data highlight how initiatives and campaigns are, and are not, working. With that information, schemes can be evidence-based, appropriate targets can be set, and money isn't necessarily thrown into the dark. 

But there's a hole in our legislation that restricts the collection of information about hate crimes. It's something Muslim organisations and figures across New Zealand want fixed.

The law and processes

What people may commonly refer to as 'hate crimes' are offences motivated by hostility towards an individual or group's race, gender, sexuality, religion, age or disability. 

This hostility is an 'aggravating factor' noted down and considered by police when investigating a crime or by a judge when sentencing an offender. 

But hate crime is not an offence in and of itself in New Zealand, unlike in some other countries. That means it's not recorded by police as a specific offence type, limiting the data available.

"The absence of systematically collected data and information on hate-motivated crime in New Zealand makes it difficult to have an informed discussion about its prevalence and design effective measures to counter them," Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt told Newshub.

Hunt is one of many who have been vocal for years about the need for such information. In 2007, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said New Zealand should collect data on "complaints, prosecutions and sentences" for racially motivated crimes. 

Paul Hunt.
Paul Hunt. Photo credit: Human Rights Commission.

The demand for information about hate-motivated crimes increased following the March 15 shootings, with many in the Muslim community concerned authorities didn't properly comprehend how prevalent discrimination against minorities was. Some, on the other hand, wanted to ensure New Zealand's issue with hate crime wasn't inflated. 

"It is about getting the data of what is happening, where it is happening, what places, what time of the day and feeding that into either the police's own prevention programmes or going out to other departments and having a more whole of the Government approach," said Anjum Rahman, co-founder of the Islamic Women's Council of New Zealand.

There is work underway to strengthen police's systems, which already allow for some detail about hostility to be recorded.

A police spokesperson told Newshub that where "staff believe a crime is motivated by hostility, they have the ability to note this in police information systems". 

Staff can indicate if hate is a factor and specific details can be provided. 

"Work continues within police to improve our systems and processes to allow timely access to data for these types of offences/incidents."

Police Minister Stuart Nash reiterated that police take hate crime seriously and aggravating factors can be flagged.

Al Noor Mosque.
Al Noor Mosque. Photo credit: Getty.

Following the massacre, Justice Minister Andrew Little ordered a review of New Zealand's hate crime legislation. It was suggested by some that hate crime could become a separate offence.

Currently, the Human Rights Act only penalises inciting racial disharmony against a group of people - a policy scrutinised by Little when he wrote in April: "Is it right that we have sanctions against incitement of disharmony on racial grounds but not, for example, on grounds of religious faith?"

A year on, real changes are yet to be made, but Little has told Newshub he received advice in December on issues concerning the Human Rights Act, which he's now considering. 

"This is not work that can or should be rushed and I am considering all matters very carefully."

He expects a decision will be made public "within months". 

Andrew Little.
Andrew Little. Photo credit: Getty.

Why the data is needed

Dr Mustafa Farouk, the President of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, strongly believes that by collecting the data, public agencies can identify how normal hate-motivated crimes are. From there, patterns can emerge over years, showing the Government, as well as not-for-profit organisations and community groups, how their work fighting discrimination is progressing and what particular groups are most at risk.

"Just like we have traffic incidents, we have other types of incidents, assaults, crime. Hate-related crimes should also be included," he told Newshub. 

After working with officials before and after the shootings, Dr Farouk believes there is support for specific hate crime data collection within the police force. 

"They themselves would have loved to have records of what is happening, but I think there is no way they could have done it because it wasn't part of the law," he said.

"I think it is very important that [that] record of racism and other forms of hate-related crimes are kept. Not only racism, but also offences against faith groups.

"It is easy for somebody to say that actions were against someone because they were different colours or because that person came from this place, but when it comes to religion the law isn't as strong."

Anjum Rahman.
Anjum Rahman. Photo credit: File.

The data wouldn't just highlight the effectiveness of current measures, including in education and policing, but it could drive new actions, Rahman says. 

"What are the areas in education and social development and other state agencies where we can make a difference on this stuff? Having this whole of Government approach so people are working together across the various agencies and departments [would be beneficial]."

She's worried, however, about it becoming politicised.

"The one thing that is holding us back in this area is the fact that if police make it easier to report and record, and people will start recording more about incidents that they otherwise wouldn't have reported, it looks like crime is soaring," she told Newshub.

"Then it becomes a political football and the police get hammered because they are not dealing with crime when actually they are dealing with it a lot better by making it easier for people to report and then making it something they can respond to.

"Effective measures are pushed back because if people are reporting more, crime has risen when it hasn't."

What we know

Although a full set of specific data about hate crimes isn't collected by authorities, limited by the lack of a specific offence, some agencies and groups are making an attempt to gather as much information as possible.

The Ministry of Justice's New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey of about 8000 people found last year that 20 percent of all incidents were perceived to happen because of an offender's attitude towards the victims' race, sex, age, sexuality, religion or disability. More than one-third of violent interpersonal offences and about 80 percent of sexual offences were perceived as driven by discrimination.

The Foundation Against Islamophobia and Racism (FAIR) is one group attempting to get specific information about hate-motivated incidents. It officially launched a register in November which allows victims and witnesses of these alleged crimes to share information about the incidents. So far, it has received records about 15 so-called hate crimes, ranging from online abuse to verbal threats to an alleged physical assault. 

Azad Khan from FAIR says there is a whole raft of different types of incidents being reported. 

"Not necessarily islamophobic in nature, some are islamophobic, some are racist in nature, some are anti-Semitic in nature," he told Newshub.

The majority of the recorded incidents relate to Muslims, Khan says, and almost all haven't been taken to the police as the complainants are concerned their reports won't be taken seriously or they have a lack of confidence in police.

Police told Newshub it does take hate crime seriously and would "encourage all members of our communities to be alert to, and report, all instances of hate, bias or prejudice to Police on 105."

Khan hopes FAIR can collaborate with police on the register but recognises the vagueness of the law around hate crime makes this difficult to do in an official sense. 

"The collection of that data, whether it be me or police or anybody else, is absolutely crucial," he said.

Al Noor Mosque.
Al Noor Mosque. Photo credit: Google Maps.

There's also the Human Rights Commission (HRC), which provides a resolution service between people or groups after someone complains of unlawful discrimination. 

While it's important to note the complaints only reflect instances where people have proactively reported alleged unlawful discrimination to the HRC, the grounds the complaints are made on provide some insight into the prevalence of perceived discrimination in New Zealand. 

In 2019, the Commission received 1257 complaints, down from 1563 in 2018. Many of those complaints may allege unlawful discrimination on multiple grounds. 

Figures provided to Newshub show 363 complaints were made on the grounds of disability, followed by 230 on the grounds of race, and 180 on the grounds of ethnic or national origins. Fifty-one were due to colour, 66 were due to racial disharmony, 64 due to alleged racial harassment, and 62 due to religious belief.

Specific instances of race and religion hate crime in New Zealand were highlighted in a Human Rights Commission report last year