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Reported hate crimes in several Canadian cities higher amid Israel-Hamas war, police say

Police say reports of hate crimes are up in several Canadian cities since Oct. 7 when Hamas launched its brutal attack on Israel — including spikes of antisemitism and Islamophobia in Toronto and Montreal.

Rabbi’s house egged and vandalized with swastika, mosque smeared with feces among reported hate crimes

“Police Line – Do not Cross” tape.

Police say reports of hate crimes are up in several Canadian cities since Oct. 7 when Hamas launched its brutal attack on Israel — including spikes of antisemitism and Islamophobia in Toronto and Montreal.

"Our in-house experts have advised that they indeed have seen an increase in reporting since Oct. 7," Ottawa Police said in a statement to CBC News late last month.

Data obtained by CBC News shows a hike in hate crimes reported in the cities with Canada's largest Jewish and Muslim populations, including Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.

The increases are happening against the backdrop of the war in the Middle East, with Israel continuing its military campaign — through airstrikes and now a ground invasion — after the Oct. 7 massacre carried out by the militant group Hamas, which continues to launch thousands of rockets into civilian areas of Israel.

The violence's effects are rippling beyond the region, including into Canada.

Hikes across Canada

Police in Toronto — home to Canada's largest Jewish population and Muslim population — said that hate crime reports for much of October had more than doubled compared to the same period last year.

The city's police chief, Myron Demkiw, said there were 15 reported antisemitic hate crimes for the period of Oct. 7 to 25 compared to seven in the same time frame in 2022 and three in 2021.

TPS is investigating two hate-motivated incidents involving mezuzahs. In one incident a mezuzah was stolen, in the second, hateful remarks were made. Call 4168082222 if you experience any intimidation, harassment, or hateful behaviour.

—@TorontoPolice

Demkiw also said there have been five reported Islamophobic hate crimes for the same period of Oct. 7-25 this year. In 2022, there were zero, and in 2021 there was one.

Demkiw called these findings "a very significant rise."

Montreal police reported a total of 14 and 38 hate crimes and/or incidents against the Arab-Muslim community and the Jewish community, respectively, for the same time period of Oct. 7-25. That is compared to 2022 figures where there was a total of 50 hate crimes targeting religion and 21 non-criminal hate "incidents" for the entire year.

In Ottawa, police recorded 29 hate-motivated incidents for a similar time period of Oct. 7-23. They were not able to provide data from last year, but the majority of those 29 incidents "are somewhat linked to the ongoing conflict in the Gaza area," said Const. Cailey Walker, the service's spokesperson.

WATCH | Toronto police increase patrols amid Israel-Hamas war:

Toronto police increase patrols amid Israel-Hamas war

22 days ago

Duration 1:52

Featured VideoIn response to the war between Israel and Hamas, Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw says the service is ramping up patrols at cultural centres, places of worship and schools across the city although there are currently "no credible threats." Police are also launching two command posts where officers can be “easily reached."

In Calgary, they had "11 files coming in in relation to the conflict" in the first couple of weeks after Oct. 7, said Matt Messenger, Calgary police hate crimes co-ordinator. Usually, situations that trigger a spike in hate crimes only have an effect for a few days. But Messenger says these hate crimes don't seem to be slowing down.

"It's been spread out over the last couple of weeks, whereas in previous years … we've seen a bulk of files come in the first couple days and kind of fade away," he said.

Why are hate crimes committed?

Several incidents since Oct. 7 have garnered media attention, though in most cases there's no way to directly attribute them to tensions over the war.

Some recent instances include a rabbi's house in B.C. egged and vandalized with a Nazi swastika. In Ottawa, a mosque was smeared with feces, and in Toronto, Stars of David dripping in red paint have been seen around the city. Meanwhile, Winnipeg police say a shooting at a home bearing a visible "religious symbol" is also being investigated as a hate-motivated crime.

Crimes in response to incidents such as war are known as "reactive hate crimes," explained David Hofmann, an associate professor of sociology at the University of New Brunswick.

"So, as opposed to hate crimes from long-established groups … reactive crimes are tied to, basically, world events as people get caught up in identitarian issues, nationalistic issues."

Motivations for committing hate crimes vary, said Hofmann, who is also the director of the criminology and criminal justice program at UNB, but he offers an explanation.

"Going so far to engage in hate crimes is more, I would call it, an act of catharsis, venting anger, feeling like one can seize control in a very chaotic and very hard-to-understand conflict."

They don't seem to be subsiding because "waves of reactive hate crimes feed off of energy," said Hofmann.

"There's a steady stream of horrific images on one side or the other that's just keeping this energy going," he added. "As long as people feel caught up in these very complex and fiery emotions, there will be a small number of individuals who go on and to commit these hate crimes."

Jewish community most targeted

Over the longer term, the Jewish community is the most targeted group in Canada for hate crimes, according to data released by Statistics Canada. And reported crimes have been steadily rising: in 2019, there were 306 reported antisemitic hate crimes, nationally; in 2020 there were 331; in 2021, a spike to 492; and another jump to 502 in 2022.

"What we've been seeing is a slow creep and acceptance of far-right rhetoric and conspiracy theory mindsets," Hofmann said.

Central to many of these extreme and conspiracy theory mindsets are hateful and antisemitic ideas of Jews, which is part of the reason they are the most targeted group, Hofmann said.

The same Statistics Canada report indicates hate crimes against other groups and religions, including the Muslim community, which saw 182 reported hate crimes in 2019, 84 in 2020, 142 in 2021 and 104 last year.

Community leaders react

Both the Jewish and the Muslim communities are feeling the impacts.

"This feels very different," said Nuzhat Jafri, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. "It's even worse than it was after 9/11 because it's relentless."

"The Jewish community is feeling, I mean, alarmed is too soft of a word," said Michael Levitt, president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies based in Toronto. "They're feeling … fearful about what they're seeing."

Jafri said she hopes communities come together.

"We are interdependent," she said. "We cannot survive without one another. It doesn't matter what faith you are or what race you are.… We are global inhabitants of this world, and we need one another to make this world better for everyone."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ania Bessonov is a multi-platform journalist at CBC News with a particular interest in international relations. She has a master's degree in security and diplomacy.

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    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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