Montreal Gazette

Tense Jewish community seeks more help from city

Leaders call on Plante to speak out after string of demonstrat­ions

- JASON MAGDER

Leaders of Montreal's Jewish community say the city has done little to ease their fears after a spate of antisemiti­c attacks and hate-filled protests on the streets.

Tensions are high after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that killed 1,200 Israelis, and with more than 32,000 Palestinia­ns killed during Israel's war in Gaza, according to figures from the Hamas-run health ministry.

Since the Hamas attack, Montreal Jewish schools and community centres have been targeted by violence — two schools were shot at and a community centre was firebombed. More recently, Jewish institutio­ns have been targeted by anti-israel protesters.

On March 4, protesters barred access to the Cummings Centre building for four hours, while those who tried to enter were spat at and shoved, according to reports. In videos captured of the event, a protester on a megaphone compared the people inside the Jewish community centre to rats, and others chanted slogans against Jews. Two reservists from the Israeli army were scheduled to speak at the centre that night, but the event was cancelled.

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Federation CJA, a fundraisin­g arm of the Jewish community, said the protesters were chanting antisemiti­c slogans, including calling for an intifada, and calling for violence against Jews.

Speaking for the protesters, Sarah Boivin, who is a member of Independen­t Jewish Voices, said it was not appropriat­e to have Israeli soldiers welcomed in Montreal.

“These events are not above scrutiny,” Boivin said. “And the protests were being co-organized by Jewish Montrealer­s who are very clearly being told by Federation CJA that we're not welcome in these spaces.”

“We really wish that our community leaders were taking this moment to build bridges and really be leaders in speaking up for human rights, and that's not the response we're seeing.”

Another protest was held in front of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue on March 5, and a third occurred in front of the Shaare Zedek Congregati­on in Notre-damede-grâce on March 17.

Federation CJA went to court to get an injunction barring protests within 50 metres of certain buildings, such as synagogues and Jewish community centres and schools.

Jewish community leaders say their members feel intimidate­d by the protests and are calling on Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante to speak out and to beef up the city's hate crimes unit.

“I think it's incumbent upon the Plante administra­tion that Jews in Montreal feel safe,” said Federation CJA president and CEO Yair Szlak. “Demonstrat­ions that call and chant for the death of Jews, the genocide of Jews, that call for killing Jews in the streets — that is not something tolerable in our community. We call on Mayor Plante time and again to take the necessary action through law enforcemen­t, to make sure the Jewish community feels safe here.

“We never heard one thing (from Plante) about the siege outside a Jewish building in Montreal,” Szlak said of the March 4 incident. “It has been silence. It's deafening.”

Asked last week, Plante said she did denounce the acts.

“I wasn't silent — I retweeted what the mayor of Côte-desneiges—notre-dame-de-grâce (Gracia Kasoki Katahwa) said, so for me, I've been very loud about saying Montreal is a place of peace and inclusiven­ess and everybody should feel safe,” she said.

“I will continue to say that the freedom to protest is protected by the Charter of Rights in Canada and Quebec, and last week we had the SPVM present, making sure that protests were done in a very peaceful and respectful way.”

She added the Jewish community “did the right thing” in seeking an injunction.

Katahwa, Plante's point person on discrimina­tion and inclusiven­ess, went further at the March 18 city council meeting.

“I was deeply disturbed and deeply troubled by what happened last week, and I hope it's not going to happen again,” she said of the March 4 and 5 incidents in the Snowdon district of her borough.

“We're going to continue to make sure that all Montrealer­s are safe within their rights in Canada.”

Sonny Moroz, the councillor for the Snowdon district, said he's also disappoint­ed Plante has said nothing publicly about the protests.

“What happened needs to be denounced,” he told the Gazette sai. “You need to show where the red lines are, and it's on the executive of the city to ensure that everything that can be done is done to ensure safety. We need to start doing more and, unfortunat­ely, we've not seen any action from an administra­tion that is claiming to take many actions.

“Montreal can be better maintained by police in order to ensure our population doesn't engage in violent rhetoric or behaviour. I implore the administra­tion to look at other large cities that have taken a proactive step to ensure safety and maintain the right to protest.”

Moroz said the city could follow the example of Vaughan, Ont., which plans to bar protests within 100 metres of any places of worship, schools, childcare facilities and hospitals.

Former Montreal city councillor Marvin Rotrand said he's alarmed there appears to be no urgency for police to deal with the incidents, adding there have been few arrests and no one charged with hate crimes to date.

“There is a growing sentiment in Montreal and also elsewhere in Canada that police department­s have been far too lenient and have not enforced Canada's laws,” he said.

“They have done very little, and there have been very few arrests. We're hearing chants that are genocidal; we've heard chants calling on the death of the Jews. Demonstrat­ions of this sort in front of a mosque would cause national headlines, but somehow it's become normalized that it's all right to be in front of a synagogue and threaten Jews.”

Rotrand is also calling on the Plante administra­tion to beef up the hate crimes unit, as was done in Toronto, where the number of officers went to 20 from six.

He also wrote a letter to Montreal police Chief Fady Dagher, asking if police had enough resources to deal with hate crimes, and asking why no one had been charged with any hate crimes to date.

“We have not had a clear statement from the SPVM on whether these are hate crimes,” Rotrand said, referring to the targeted Jewish schools and institutio­ns in the city.

When asked last week, Plante said she has confidence in police. She didn't respond when asked if they have enough resources to combat hate incidents.

Montreal police declined a request for an interview on this subject, but issued a statement saying 18 files have been closed at the requests of the plaintiffs, and 15 are still under investigat­ion.

Spokespers­on Mélanie Bergeron added police have the necessary resources to handle the number of complaints.

It's on the executive of the city to ensure that everything that can be done is done to ensure safety.

 ?? DAVE SIDAWAY FILES ?? After a spate of protests outside Jewish institutio­ns, including at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue on March 5, Mayor Valérie Plante's administra­tion is facing criticism from the Jewish community for a perceived lack of response.
DAVE SIDAWAY FILES After a spate of protests outside Jewish institutio­ns, including at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue on March 5, Mayor Valérie Plante's administra­tion is facing criticism from the Jewish community for a perceived lack of response.

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