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B'nai Brith Canada Chief Executive Officer Michael Mostyn speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, April 29, 2019.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Incidents of anti-Semitism swelled in Canada over the past year, with vandalism and violence targeting the Jewish community, and most occurrences of harassment coming on social media, B’nai Brith Canada said in its annual audit.

Michael Mostyn, the group’s chief executive officer, said it’s the third straight record-breaking year, calling the trend “very disturbing,” because it may indicate a new normal for the country.

The 2018 annual audit, produced by the group’s advocacy arm, The League for Human Rights, recorded 2,041 incidents of anti-Semitism, an increase of 16.5 per cent from the previous year, and the first time more than 2,000 incidents have been reported since 1982.

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Some of the incidents the group recorded include teens shooting lit fireworks at Hasidic Jews in Boisbriand, Que., two Saskatchewan elementary school students being harassed and beaten by their peers, Orthodox students being assaulted on the streets of Toronto, and a 13-year-old Toronto student being told by a peer who had threatened to “shoot up a Jewish school” to “go back into the ovens."

The volume of online harassment is one cause of the rise in incidences the group identified, Mr. Mostyn said, pointing out that 80 per cent of harassment documented took place on social-media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and also over e-mails and text messages.

“It’s another disturbing trend, and in particular because so many of our young people are on social media,” Mr. Mostyn said.

The audit says that examples of online hate range from threatening e-mails to anti-Semitic bullying on social media, including death threats.

The report comes days after a woman was killed and three others wounded when a gunman opened fire in a synagogue in Poway, Calif. A 19-year-old man was arrested after the attack, and investigators have said they are reviewing an anti-Semitic letter he posted online. That shooting came six months after 11 people were killed in a massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October. The Pittsburgh gunman had been posting anti-Semitic and hate-fuelled messages on social media for months.

“In that case, there was foreshadowing online,” Mr. Mostyn said, adding, “This online incitement which has been increasing in Canada is something that needs to be taken seriously.”

Perpetrators are rarely held accountable, the report says, but notes that some comments have led to criminal charges. B’nai Brith is calling for dedicated hate-crime units in every major Canadian police force, and wants the federal government to come up with a plan to combat online hate.

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Rachel Rappaport, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister David Lametti, said the government is “deeply concerned” about the rise in online hatred. Ms. Rappaport said the House of Commons justice committee is conducting a study on the issue, and Mr. Lametti will review its conclusions.

Ran Ukashi, the national director of The League for Human Rights, wrote in the report that in 2018, Canada saw political candidates “making disparaging remarks against Jews, and politicians granting awards to individuals who have vilified Jews.”

The report named politicians including Liberal MP Iqra Khalid and B.C. Premier John Horgan in a section called “anti-Semitism in the political realm.” The report pointed to Ms. Khalid’s decision to give a community service award to Amin El-Maoued, who was allegedly involved in leading an anti-Semitic rally. After criticism from B’nai Brith, Ms. Khalid rescinded the award and said she was not aware of his views.

It also pointed to a certificate of appreciation Mr. Horgan awarded to Vancouver Imam Tarek Ramadan, who has been criticized for making anti-Semitic comments. B’nai Brith said after a month-long campaign, Mr. Horgan rescinded the award.

Mr. Mostyn said the group also appealed on Monday to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to deport Helmut Oberlander, a 95-year-old Ontario resident alleged to have participated in Nazi death squads who lost his two-decade legal fight to keep his Canadian citizenship last week.

“He has now exhausted every level of appeal, made his way into Canada and still remains in Canada. We know the government speaks about the rise of white nationalism and extremism from the right. There is no better example of extremism than the Nazis,” he said, adding, “he should be deported immediately.”

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