Does the mul­ti­cul­tural city of Toronto have an anti-Semitism prob­lem?

Re­cent in­ci­dents of hate crimes in North York and Hill­crest Vil­lage

North Toronto Post - - News - By Ge­orge Redak

On Nov. 11, 2018, four teenage boys wear­ing Jewish re­li­gious at­tire were vic­tims of a hor­ri­ble at­tack. Walk­ing home from school, near Bathurst Street and Lawrence Av­enue West the boys were con­fronted by a group of nine teenagers who be­gan mak­ing racist com­ments.

As the ver­bal abuse con­tin­ued, a phys­i­cal al­ter­ca­tion en­sued, with two of the vic­tims be­ing as­saulted and robbed. The sus­pects split up and fled the scene. Po­lice ar­rived on site just in time to make one ar­rest, catch­ing a 17-year-old male sus­pect and charg­ing him with as­sault and rob­bery.

“In the case of the four vic­tims, one of the rea­sons they were able to fend off their at­tack­ers is be­cause they hap­pen to be pro­fi­cient in Krav Maga (an Is­raeli self-de­fence tech­nique),” said Ad­ina Abramov, the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Eitz Chaim Schools’ Pa­tri­cia Cam­pus.

“Stu­dents at our school have the op­por­tu­nity to learn this mixed mar­tial art, of­fered as an ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­ity.”

In re­sponse to the in­ci­dent, Mayor John Tory is­sued a re­sponse, via so­cial me­dia on Twit­ter, stat­ing: “No one should ever be at­tacked for their re­li­gion. Please help Toronto po­lice solve this hate crime/rob­bery in­ves­ti­ga­tion that oc­curred Sun­day night.”

The in­ci­dent with the boys rep­re­sents one of many crimes that ap­pear to take aim at Toronto’s Jewish pop­u­la­tion. A cou­ple of weeks later, there was an­other in­ci­dent, this one in­volv­ing high school girls.

“Two girls from a Jewish high school in the city were on a TTC bus, and they were ver­bally abused by two older teens,” said Abramov.

“No­body on the bus said or did any­thing while the girls were be­ing at­tacked, which was also very alarm­ing and very as­tound­ing.” Abramov said that the teens were tar­geted be­cause of their re­li­gion.

The in­ci­dent was re­ported to Toronto Po­lice Ser­vice (TPS) by the girls’ par­ents, but no press re­lease has been made pub­lic. In re­sponse to th­ese two episodes, the school reached out to par­ents to in­form them of the in­ci­dents and to sug­gest that they re­view their trans­porta­tion ar­range­ments.

Ac­cord­ing to TPS, since 2015, hate crime re­ports have been steadily in­creas­ing.

Although data for 2018 will not be pub­lished un­til March of 2019, the sta­tis­tics for 2017 in­di­cate that hate crimes in­creased by 28 per cent com­pared to 2016.

“We see it with the graf­fiti at syn­a­gogues, the at­tack­ing of the four boys at Bathurst and Fairholme [Av­enue] as they were go­ing to a Jewish school,” said coun­cil­lor James Paster­nak, in­cum­bent of Ward 6, York Cen­tre.

“We see it with the dam­ag­ing of the re­li­gious sym­bol or the mezuzah on the door­ways up in Wil­low­dale, and we see it on so­cial me­dia.”

Of the 186 hate crimes in 2017, 53 of them tar­geted the Jewish com­mu­nity. That rep­re­sents the high­est num­ber of hate crime in­ci­dents di­rected to­ward one spe­cific group. The black and Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties saw a to­tal of 33 in­ci­dents each.

Fur­ther­more, 120 of the in­ci­dents were prop­erty-re­lated crimes. What makes the in­ci­dents in­volv­ing the teenage stu­dents par­tic­u­larly alarm­ing is not only the age de­mo­graphic be­ing tar­geted, but also the abu­sive na­ture of the crimes.

“This rise, we see it par­tic­u­larly com­ing from the po­lar­iza­tion of pol­i­tics,” said Mo­hammed Hashim, of the Ur­ban Al­liance on Race Re­la­tions. “Where the far right is open­ing up di­a­logue around be­long­ing … typ­i­cally we see the Jewish com­mu­nity as a ca­nary in the coal mine.”

Ear­lier this year, the Hill­crest vil­lage com­mu­nity of Toronto was rocked when it was lit­tered with racist posters and stick­ers, in­clud­ing in Wells Hill Park, many of which di­rected peo­ple to hate­filled web­sites.

Lo­cal res­i­dent Matt Sad­owski found stick­ers lit­ter­ing the front of a lo­cal school.

“I was dis­gusted, mad and afraid. This is both a Jewish and mul­ti­cul­tural area,” said Sad­owski. “It’s why we live here and why we live in Canada: for its di­ver­sity.”

On May 28, B’nai Brith Canada re­leased a state­ment about the in­ci­dents af­ter learn­ing of the Wells Hill Park posters as well as other anti-Semitic ma­te­rial put up on the walls of Dave’s restau­rant, a fam­ily es­tab­lish­ment in the Hill­crest neigh­bour­hood, on St. Clair Av­enue.

“The pub­lic pro­mo­tion of an­tiSemitic mes­sages in the heart of this coun­try’s big­gest city is to­tally un­ac­cept­able,” said Michael Mostyn, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of B’nai Brith Canada.

“Th­ese posters are part of a per­verse at­tempt to tar­get Jewish and Is­raeli Cana­di­ans and os­tra­cize them in their own neigh­bour­hoods.”

The on­line el­e­ment here can’t be un­der­es­ti­mated.

Not only are many groups or­ga­niz­ing them­selves dig­i­tally and spread­ing their hate quickly and anony­mously, the web­sites them­selves are prof­it­ing just by sim­ply hav­ing more users.

“I think so­cial me­dia and on­line hate is fu­elling anx­i­ety and is fu­elling in­dif­fer­ence,” said Hashim. “There are Face­book groups that are mar­ket­ing xeno­pho­bic ideas and prey­ing on peo­ple’s anx­i­eties in or­der to di­vide peo­ple.”

Toronto’s mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism makes it a tar­get for hate groups that look to foster in­tol­er­ance to­ward the many com­mu­ni­ties that call this city home. An­tiSemitic and anti-Mus­lim groups make up a large por­tion of th­ese groups op­er­at­ing in Toronto, who or­ga­nize pub­lic ral­lies and events.

“I did bring a mo­tion to coun­cil to stop hate ral­lies. Our pub­lic space should never be used to pro­mote hate or dis­crim­i­na­tion or to pro­vide safe haven for th­ese groups,” said Paster­nak, who has long taken par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in the con­tro­ver­sial Al Quds Day rally that has been ac­cused of tar­get­ing the Jewish com­mu­nity.

But he added that the neigh­bour­hood and in­deed the city will per­se­vere.

“There is a con­cern. There is a right to be con­cerned,” said Coun. Paster­nak. “But the Jewish com­mu­nity is very re­silient. It has suf­fered big­otry and an­tiSemitism in the past. It is stoic and stands up to this kind of be­hav­iour.”

Clock­wise from left: Coun­cil­lor James Paster­nak, one of the many posters found in the Hill­crest neigh­bour­hood, and a Face­book photo of racist mark­ings in the snow in Thorn­hill

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