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Indigo at Bay and Bloor, in Toronto on Nov. 10, where protesters threw paint and put up posters targeting the chain's founder, an incident police allege was hate-motivated mischief targeting Jews.Sarah Palmer/The Globe and Mail

A York University professor who wrote an award-winning book on the use of direct action in protest movements is among 11 people facing criminal charges in the defacing of a bookstore with red paint and accusations its Jewish founder supports genocide. Toronto Police have described the bookstore defacing as motivated by hate.

Lesley J. Wood, an associate professor, who chaired the university’s sociology department from 2017 to 2021, was charged this week with mischief over $5,000 and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence by Toronto Police. The allegations relate to red paint thrown on doors and windows at the Bay-Bloor outlet of Indigo, Canada’s largest bookstore chain, and posters depicting its founder and chief executive officer, Heather Reisman, on a fake book cover entitled Funding Genocide.

York University has been prominent in campus responses to the Israel-Hamas war. Three student organizations issued a joint statement shortly after the Oct. 7 atrocities committed by Hamas, describing what occurred as an act of Palestinian resistance against “so-called Israel.” The university administration later began a process that could lead to withdrawal of recognition of the student groups.

The university has not said what actions, if any, it is taking in the Indigo matter.

“We have learned of this very serious matter through the Toronto Police news release issued earlier which appears to involve York employees who have been charged,” university spokesman Yanni Dagonas said in a statement Thursday night.

“The University is looking into this matter but is not able to comment further at this time.” Late Friday afternoon, the spokesman said the school had no updates to provide.

The incident at Indigo sent shock waves through the Jewish community, said Bernie Farber, founding chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

An Israeli-Canadian who videotaped the Oct. 7 attack is on a speaking tour

He called it a “classic case” of antisemitism, and said in the Jewish community it evoked memories of Kristallnacht, a 1938 attack on Jewish businesses and homes in Nazi Germany.

“I think people have to put themselves in the shoes of the Jewish community, the shoes of trauma. When we see this kind of attack on Jewish businesses, we see our history flashing before our eyes. That is what we feel and that is what we see.”

But pro-Palestinian activists said it was aimed at highlighting Ms. Reisman’s support of Israel, including her co-founding a scholarship fund for foreign soldiers who enlist in Israel’s army. Rachel Small, a member of the Jews Say No To Genocide Coalition, knows some of the accused and said groups of police officers broke open the doors of homes before dawn and arrested some individuals in front of their children. She called it an attempt to intimidate the protesters. “It’s just terrifying to see the abusive police repression over the past two days,” said Ms. Small, who demonstrated with others outside a police station Wednesday until all the accused were released.

Toronto police spokesperson Stephanie Sayer said her agency will not tolerate any hate incidents and “will aggressively pursue any alleged cases of hate crimes in our city.”

“Anyone whose behaviour crosses the line from lawful demonstration to criminality should expect to be arrested,” she said in a statement Friday evening.

Prof. Wood’s 2012 book, Direct Action, Deliberation and Diffusion: Collective Action After the WTO Protests in Seattle, published by Cambridge University Press, won the 2013 John Porter Tradition of Excellence Book Award given by the Canadian Sociological Association. The book describes innovations in tactics used by protesters in Seattle in 1999, and how protesters in New York and Toronto later adapted them.

Nanos: How Canadians feel about the Israel-Hamas war, according to new survey

The Globe and Mail confirmed Prof. Wood’s identity with a source who has direct knowledge. The Globe is not naming the source because the person was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. Prof. Wood did not respond to e-mailed requests for comment. Neither did the chair of the sociology department, Mark Thomas.

Her partner, Mac Scott, an immigration consultant at a law firm, was also charged with mischief over $5,000 and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence. The Globe e-mailed Prof. Wood, Mr. Scott and four others Friday as a group, asking for comment. Mr. Scott responded saying “I cannot be part of this thread anymore we are all not allowed to be in contact,” alluding to conditions of their release from custody.

Prof. Wood’s Facebook page says she and Mr. Scott have been “in a relationship” since 2001, and city records show they own property together. The two, both 56, are the oldest of the 11 people charged.

Together, the couple has written articles about protest movements. In one such article, they describe their participation in the G20 demonstrations in Toronto in 2010.

“The G20 changed us,” they wrote on Prof. Wood’s blog 10 years after the massive protests and large-scale arrests of the global meetings. “The scars remind us to hold tight and dream big … The G20 taught us how we can lose our city to police and their weapons, their jails and borders. But we have our own weapons, our creativity, our solidarity, and our love and rage.”

One advocacy group, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, describes the defacing of Indigo as a legitimate form of expression against Israel’s war on Gaza. In a statement, the group said it urges Toronto police to drop the spurious charges against the activists.

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