Jewish and Muslim communities in Canada’s biggest cities are growing fearful, as reports of hate-related incidents that appear to be connected to the religious and cultural tensions aggravated by Israel’s war against Hamas become more commonplace.
In Montreal, after a week marred by several suspected hate crimes targeting Jewish institutions, including gunshots fired on empty Jewish schools and Molotov cocktails ignited at a synagogue, the city’s police department said it has ramped up preventative operations.
The force has “significantly increased its visibility measures around places of worship and other targeted locations,” police spokesperson Mélanie Bergeron said Friday. She said specialized community relations units have been deployed, and that the department is in regular contact with representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities.
On Wednesday, two security guards and a student suffered minor injuries when pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel student protesters clashed at Concordia University in downtown Montreal. Another student, a 22-year-old woman, was arrested and charged with assault.
A video of the confrontation that circulated widely on social media shows a Université de Montréal lecturer, Yanise Arab, directing an Arabic insult at a student and screaming at them to “go back to Poland.” Université de Montréal spokesperson Geneviève O’Meara said Friday that Mr. Arab had been suspended, pending the result of an internal investigation. Mr. Arab did not reply to e-mailed questions from The Globe and Mail.
Montreal recorded a surge in reports of hate crimes in the month after Oct. 7, when the militant group Hamas attacked Israel, leading to retaliatory Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip.
Forty-one of those reports concerned alleged crimes targeting Jewish people, according to Montreal police, and 14 reports had to do with alleged crimes against Arab-Muslim communities. The numbers far outpace the usual rate at which Montrealers report hate incidents, according to Statistics Canada figures.
The Toronto Police Service also tracked a rise in reported hate crimes in the city last month. The force’s most recent statistics show 15 reported antisemitic incidents and five targeting Muslims between Oct. 7 and 25, compared to seven and zero, respectively, during the same time period last year.
One adult male and two boys were charged in mid-October for allegedly making threatening remarks at the Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto. Another man was charged with mischief after allegedly leaving hateful writing on the front of a mosque in Toronto’s east end.
There have also been three hate-related cases in Toronto in which assault charges have been laid in the past month, including one in which a man allegedly attacked someone with pepper spray during a rally.
On Friday, an Indigo store in downtown Toronto was plastered with posters of the chain’s Jewish chief executive officer, Heather Reisman, alongside the words “Funding Genocide.” Red paint had been splattered on the store’s windows.
Earlier in the week, Toronto police launched an online portal where people can report hate-motivated graffiti. The force also announced that its specialized hate-crime unit has recently expanded to include 20 investigators and eight “special” constables, up from a team of just six officers. On Friday, the service could not provide the exact number of graffiti reports it had received, but it said in a statement that they had been “numerous.”
With war-related demonstrations happening in cities across the country, there have been reports of protesters brandishing swastikas and other hateful symbols, or making bigoted or violent remarks. This has put some people “on edge,” said Adam Silver, CEO of the Calgary Jewish Federation.
“There are calls for violence against Jews. There are chants, and statements, and symbols that are being used, from rallies to posters to online, that certainly suggest there is a heightened concern there,” he said.
Members of the Jewish community used to feel generally safe wearing identifiable Jewish clothing or symbols in public, he added. But, he said, “I don’t think people are confident that that’s the case these days.”
Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw said during a news conference this week that the increase in reports of hate crimes is alarming, especially because there is a “significant issue of under-reporting.” He said the service is doing everything possible to hold perpetrators accountable.
A lack of attention to possible hate crimes is also a concern in Montreal. Stephen Brown, CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said members of the Montreal Muslim community have told the council of several instances in which Montreal police did not take complaints as seriously as residents had hoped they would.
Mr. Brown said those incidents have included racist graffiti and multiple assaults on Muslim women. Some have been spat on, he said, and at least three have had their hijabs ripped off.
With a report from The Canadian Press
Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify that Toronto’s hate-crime unit expanded to include eight civilian constables.