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A security vehicle sits outside the Yeshiva Gedolah, a Jewish school that was hit by gunshots in Montreal on Nov. 13, 2023.Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press

Lawyers are preparing legal action against schools and school boards across Canada that they say are failing to deal adequately with rising antisemitism, after a spike in abuse of Jewish children since the beginning of the war between Hamas and Israel.

Toronto personal injury lawyer Diamond and Diamond is working on around a dozen legal cases involving schools from B.C. to the Maritimes, as well as lawsuits against Toronto and Peel district school boards in Ontario.

Sandra Zisckind, managing partner at Diamond and Diamond, which is also preparing class-action lawsuits against universities, said: “I’m appalled and sickened that children cannot go to school and be who they are.” She said that often the victim is blamed and moved out of the classroom by schools, rather than the perpetrator, but that the “lawsuits will hold them to task for what they do.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has also set up a legal task force to help families, and says it has received an unprecedented number of reports of antisemitism in public schools since the conflict in the Mideast began last October.

They say elementary and high-school children have been punched, spat at, chased by groups of children shouting abuse, ostracized in class and faced antisemitic taunts – as well as Nazi salutes.

Tamara Gottlieb, founder of Fairness in Education, a task force designed to protect students and teachers from rising antisemitism and racism in schools, said she has been inundated with calls from Jewish teachers, parents and children, including those enduring chants of “we are going to finish the job that Hamas started – Jews must die.”

She said many schools are not dealing with incidences adequately, and children and Jewish teachers have faced death threats.

“At one downtown [Toronto] school there was a little Jewish boy in the classroom, and there was a student who brought in a Nazi flag, playing Nazi music on his phone and encircled the Jewish boy, while playing the music,” she said.

Antisemitism should be treated as a significant threat to national security

“And the Jewish boy got removed from the classroom after he broke the flag and the aggressor remained in the class.”

The National Council of Canadian Muslims said that since October it had also “noted an exponential rise in Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism in schools across Canada.”

“From students sharing experiences of violent harassment to bullying and silencing, there is a rise in hate, and schools need to be paying close attention,” said NCCM education director Aasiyah Khan in an e-mail.

Aaron Kucharczuk, a Toronto parent, said antisemitism was now so prevalent that Jewish parents routinely exchange stories of their children’s experiences. He said a neighbour’s children were surrounded, kicked and hit by other children making comments about being “sent back to the gas chambers. And we’re going to do to you what Hamas did to Israel.”

Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, vice-president, GTA, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said it sometimes receives several dozen reports of antisemitism in schools in one day.

“These are reports of Jewish students subjected to slurs, bullying, and even assault; students finding their lockers covered routinely in swastikas or “free Palestine” graffiti; students told they should “die in a gas chamber,” that they are “baby killers,” or that they have no right to live in Canada,” she said in an e-mail.

Twenty-seven universities have now replied to a letter sent in November by Liberal MPs, including Anthony Housefather, asking how they were dealing with antisemitism on campus.

“For me, the highlight is that all 27 confirmed that a call for the genocide of Jews violates their codes of conduct, irrespective of context,” Mr. Housefather said in a statement Wednesday.

Toronto District School Board said it empathized with staff, students and their families over “increased incidences of antisemitism in our communities and schools.”

“The TDSB takes all allegations of hate and racism very seriously and investigates the reports we receive. Each incident of hate or racism is addressed on a case-by-case basis, and can lead to disciplinary action including suspension and/or expulsion,” Ryan Bird, a TDSB executive officer, said in a statement. He said it was making every effort to prevent hateful incidents from happening in the first place, including through education.

Peel District School Board said in a statement that it “is deeply committed to nurturing inclusive and identity-affirming spaces where the diversity and humanity of all students, staff and communities are centred.”

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