The Toronto police department’s hate crimes unit is investigating after the arrest of three people at a Jewish high school, as police forces, synagogues, mosques and schools across the country announced heightened security measures in the wake of last week’s attack against Israel.
Police forces in several cities announced increased patrols of places of worship and cultural centres after a former Hamas leader called for a “general mobilization” of Muslims to protest against the retaliatory bombing by Israel of Gaza. The Toronto District School Board was one of several in the country to reassure parents that safety was being prioritized as religious leaders described a climate of fear and anxiety from a conflict that has killed thousands, including at least three Canadians.
On Thursday, three male suspects allegedly made undisclosed verbal threats at the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto and were arrested by Toronto police, the force said in a statement. The hate crimes unit is now investigating. Other police agencies across Canada, including those in Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Halifax, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, said they were unaware of any hate-motivated crimes but most have been on high alert after the weekend’s attacks in Israel, the continuing war against Hamas, and related tensions and protests in Jewish and Palestinian communities across Canada.
Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw said in a press conference Thursday that additional patrols in and around Jewish communities and places of worship will continue for the foreseeable future. He said leaders from the Jewish and Palestinian communities have expressed that the overseas war “has shaken their feelings of peace and security, here at home.”
Chief Demkiw added that the hate crimes unit will “aggressively pursue” any alleged or suspected hate-fuelled incidents.
On the East Coast, Halifax Regional Police spokesperson John MacLeod said in a statement that “the escalation of violence in the Middle East is a great concern” to the community. He said there has been no specific threat to public safety in the region but police are on alert. In Manitoba, the Winnipeg Police Department said it has also increased patrols at places deemed to be higher-risk, such as places of worship, and the service continues to have a visible presence at rallies and protests.
In Victoria, officers were assigned to monitor a prayer vigil for Israel on Thursday night. And in Vancouver, Sergeant Steve Addison said there was no specific threat to any location in the city but said police know many residents are concerned for their safety.
Montreal’s police service said in a statement it, too, was making officers visible “around places of worship and other places of interest,” but said there is “no significant increase” in complaints related to the events of the past week, despite one incident posted online Wednesday that quickly went viral.
In the video, a woman is seen verbally attacking another woman who had displayed a Palestinian flag on her vehicle. The second woman says her car was rammed. Montreal police spokesperson Jeanne Drouin confirmed the force is investigating the alleged hate crime and hit and run.
Calgary Imam Syed Soharwardy said he is fearful that the hate, division and fear-mongering by some political leaders and on social media will lead to real-life violence against Muslims in Canada.
He pointed directly at the June, 2021, truck attack in London, Ont., where four members of a Muslim family were killed in an alleged act of terrorism, that the accused told police was motivated by white-nationalist beliefs and was politically motivated.
Mr. Soharwardy said there is constant anxiety that an attack like this will happen again and that distressing images and videos of dead Israelis and Palestinians will deepen division. He is scared for both the Muslim and Jewish communities.
“In fear, somebody may react right and that reaction could be pretty destructive and could be very damaging for our country,” he said. “Please stand up with peace. That’s what is most important.”
Yair Szlak, the president and chief executive officer of Federation CJA, a Jewish cultural and advocacy non-profit based in Montreal, said even without any specific threats, people are scared.
“In ordinary times, we always live in anxiety,” he said. “In times like this … we live in trepidation and fear.”
Justice and public-safety ministers, meeting in Bromont, Que., on Thursday, issued a statement urging Canadians to remain united.
“Our law enforcement and security partners remain vigilant in the face of these potential disruptions and are monitoring the situation closely to ensure the safety of all Canadian citizens,” it read.
Federal Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc said in a statement that Canada stands in solidarity with Jewish communities “ahead of the Hamas-led call for mobilization around the world.” There is no place “for the glorification of violence or terror, here in Canada or around the world,” he said, noting that Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization in Canada.
Conservative deputy leader Melissa Lantsman said her party wants the Liberal government to do more to ensure Jewish people are protected ahead of the perceived threat of protests.
“We’ve heard a lot of concern in the community, from Jewish-owned businesses operating whether their employees are comfortable coming to work. Parents who are unsure about sending their kids to either daycare or school,” she said. “People are rightfully exercising a lot of caution.”
Ms. Lantsman said she wants the government to convene an “urgent” call with provincial and municipal law enforcement to provide effective co-ordination, ensure the RCMP provides resources and intelligence to police agencies, and update Canadians on whether the federal threat assessment is being re-evaluated.