Two empty Montreal Jewish schools hit by gunfire, Molotov cocktails ignited at a synagogue and the headquarters of a local Jewish non-profit – four hate incidents this week in the city that have brought a new level of anxiety to Jewish communities across Canada.
Montreal has seen a surge in hate-crime cases since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, with police adding the most-recent incidents to a list of another 41 targeting Jewish people and 14 targeting Arab-Muslim communities.
Up until this week, police across Canada had mostly reported non-violent hate incidents as the Israel-Hamas war inflames long-standing tensions that cut across religious, ethnic and ideological lines. Large, mostly pro-Palestinian demonstrations are being regularly held in multiple cities across Canada, with political leaders calling for calm and police ramping up patrols in affected communities.
Jean-Pierre Brabant, a spokesperson for the Montreal police, said that on Thursday morning school staff found at least one bullet hole and a shell casing at a Jewish school in the Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood, and a bullet hole at a school in Outremont.
Megan Saleh said she pulled her daughter out of class early at Azrieli Talmud Torah in Côte-des-Neiges, because she, like many other parents, was worried her child would be scared.
“I think that the antisemitism that’s growing is awful, and bigger organizations – government, schools, universities – they need to condemn violence of all forms,” she said. “This is a kids’ school, it’s too much.”
Federation CJA, a Montreal-based Jewish advocacy organization, said Thursday that it has requested an increased police presence after the school shootings, one of which occurred at Yeshiva Gedola. The group also said it will fund increased security around other institutions after a Molotov cocktail was lit at its offices Tuesday as well as at a local synagogue.
“We understand that this adds stress and anxiety to our community members,” the federation said in a statement. “We urge you to continue to take part in Jewish life while remaining extremely vigilant.”
These escalating violent attacks in Montreal have shaken the city and communities across the country.
Canada has been grappling with the fallout from the Mideast conflict, which began a month ago when Hamas gunmen killed 1,400 people and took about 240 hostages during a surprise attack, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, more than 10,500 people in Gaza have been killed, about 40 per cent of them children, in Israeli military action, according to Palestinian officials, and at least 178 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank.
Police and criminologists acknowledge that hate crimes are often not reported. Police departments across the country typically don’t release up-to-date statistics on the cases they do investigate. (A Globe and Mail investigation found last year that even forces that devote the most resources to investigating hate crimes still solved fewer than a third of such cases, while some solved fewer than 10 per cent.)
Unlike their counterparts in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver’s police departments could not say this week how many new hate crimes cases they have opened in the month since the turmoil in the Middle East, but both said incidents have increased.
At a technical briefing Wednesday, Detective Sergeant Kiran Bisla said Toronto Police Services has nearly tripled the number of investigators in her hate-crimes unit by adding 14 more officers and assigned eight new special constables to fan out across districts to interview witnesses to alleged hate crimes and gather evidence, such as video footage.
Vancouver police said Thursday that it had set up its specialized security-camera trailer in the parking lot of the city’s Jewish Community Centre to deter anyone intent on targeting that hub of Jewish life.
Barbara Perry, who has been studying hate crimes in Canada and white nationalism for nearly two decades and leads the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, said she is fearful the incidents in Montreal portend worse hate crimes against Jewish communities in this country.
“It is especially disconcerting when schools are targeted,” said Dr. Perry. “I think it’s naive to think Canadian communities are not vulnerable to extreme acts of hate-fuelled violence.”
The National Council of Canadian Muslims condemned the “cowardly and appalling” shots fired at the Montreal schools.
“Those responsible for this should face the strongest punishments and consequences,” the organization stated Thursday. “We will stand between all communities and those who wish to do them harm. Period.”
Quebec Premier François Legault said Thursday on social media that he was concerned about the incidents at the Jewish schools and another at Concordia the day before.
“Hate and violence will never be tolerated in Quebec,” he said. “The attackers must be punished.”
On Wednesday afternoon, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students clashed at Concordia University in downtown Montreal, Mr. Brabant, of the Montreal police, said. Two Concordia security guards and a student suffered minor injuries. Another student, a 22-year-old woman, was arrested and charged with assault.
In a statement posted on Instagram, the Concordia student-run organization Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights said it was holding a fundraiser for Gaza when pro-Palestinian students faced “confrontations provoked by pro-Zionist supporters” who committed “verbal and physical abuse” that escalated beyond their control.
The group said it has since received a large number of threats and has moved some activities off campus.
McGill University principal and vice-chancellor Deep Saini wrote in a message to students and staff on Thursday that antisemitic posters calling upon McGill students to participate in a “National Day of Shutdown” in support of Gaza were circulating on social media.
Mr. Saini said the poster advertising the Nov. 9 event shows individuals breaking glass windows. Thursday marks the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a series of violent attacks in 1938 Nazi Germany during which mobs smashed the windows of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses.
He said he asked for an increased security presence for the event.
Pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated Thursday on both the West and East Coasts of Canada at businesses they said were enabling Israeli aggression in Gaza.
In Halifax, police were called to a demonstration outside a sonar technology business in Halifax, where 40 to 50 protesters chanted “GeoSpectrum, you can’t hide. You are arming genocide.”
The demonstrators handed out pamphlets calling for GeoSpectrum Technologies, a Halifax-based company that makes underwater surveillance sonar and tracking equipment, to leave the community. They said the company is supplying Israel Defence Forces with technology that has been used on armed remote-controlled boats that have attacked Palestinian fishermen.
In Vancouver, a sit-in was staged at the downtown offices of Israeli shipping company Zim, which demonstrators say is delivering arms to Israel. Police said the crowd eventually left after a “peaceful and safe protest.”
With reports from The Canadian Press, Associated Press and Reuters