A trio of Toronto-based Jewish organizations say they have seen a spike in antisemitic incidents across the country being reported to their three separate hate hotlines this month, which they tie to the recent Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies and B’nai Brith Canada say local police have been contacted about many of the incidents – some of which may have been reported to all three groups. They say their community is on edge amid the increase in antisemitism ranging from uttering of slurs online and in-person to a handful of physical assaults.
All three organizations attended a meeting last week about these incidents with federal Liberal politicians organized by MPs Anthony Housefather and Ya’ara Saks, which was also attended by Immigration Minister Marco Mendocino and staff from the Prime Minister’s Office.
“It’s not just the increase in the quantity of incidents, but a shift in the quality of incidents,” said Noah Shack of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “We’ve moved from principally vandalism and graffiti and things like that – mischief offences – into things like assaults, harassment and intimidation and they’re happening increasingly in the heart of Jewish communities rather than peripherally.”
Mr. Shack’s organization says so far this month it has been contacted about 57 such incidents in and around Toronto. Four physical assaults were reported and 16 instances of harassment, with the rest of the incidents involving graffiti, vandalism and suspicious activity near a distinctly Jewish building. In addition, there were also suspicious or threatening phone calls, letters or e-mails, according to the non-profit organization.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal organization said it had seen a similar number reported this month from across Canada, although most occurred in and around Toronto. The group said it has been notified about 40 to 50 incidents, up to seven of which have been referred to local police because the centre’s expert found they met the bar of being a crime motivated by hate.
B’nai Brith Canada says it has seen a similar spike, but could not provide statistics beyond stating it had already had more physical assaults reported from across Canada in the month of May than the nine recorded by the organization last year.
Police and criminologists acknowledge hate crimes in general go vastly unreported, and departments across the country don’t typically release up-to-date statistics on these crimes. The latest report from Statistics Canada shows attacks against Jewish Canadians dipped slightly in 2019 to 296 cases reported by police, about 15 per cent of all hate crimes in the data set that year.
Toronto police, which last month stated in its annual report that anti-Jewish hate crimes rose 43 per cent last year to 63 cases, are not seeing a significant increase in antisemitic attacks this year, although they have recorded an uptick this month, according to spokesperson Connie Osborne.
Vancouver police spokesperson Constable Tania Visintin said she is aware of similar incidents being reported to her department this month, but none of the cases completed in May so far have been motivated by antisemitism.
Montreal police said in an e-mail Friday afternoon that they have increased car and foot patrols in several neighbourhoods with large Jewish populations to reassure people and prevent crime after threats have been made against this community. On Monday, two arrests were made in relation to antisemitic incidents, the police force stated.
Michael Levitt, president and chief executive of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said the groups underscored the frightening situation on the ground to politicians.
“It’s really critical that there’s an understanding for everybody to be understanding that it’s not business as usual and this is a time we need to be feeling support across all levels of government,” said Mr. Levitt, who left his job as a federal Liberal backbencher last summer to lead the non-profit.
All three groups linked the flareup of antisemitism to the tension surrounding Israel over its conflict with Hamas in Gaza.
Sheryl Nestel, an executive committee member of the non-profit Independent Jewish Voices, which has a thousand members across the country, said that in Canada legitimate criticism of the Israeli state is often conflated with antisemitism.
Ms. Nestel, a retired lecturer at the University of Toronto who has studied how groups collect antisemitism statistics in Canada, said she is incredibly sad about the spate of recent attacks, but said she is very troubled by the panic among Jewish Canadians feeling as if there is an onslaught placing them in danger as they go about their daily lives.
She said many of the perpetrators remain unidentified so their motivations are also hidden, noting that far-right conspiracy theorists or other groups could be emboldened to act right now as well.
With a report from Tu Thanh Ha
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