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Canada sees record rise in antisemitism in 2021, surge in violence toward Jews

OTTAWA — Record levels of antisemitism were recorded in Canada last year, with sharp increases in Quebec and British Columbia, according to a report published Sunday.
Marvin Rotrand, National Director of the League for Human Rights, B'nai Brith Canada, speaks about the increase in antisemitic incidents in Canada during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, April 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Record levels of antisemitism were recorded in Canada last year, with sharp increases in Quebec and British Columbia, according to a report published Sunday. 

The annual audit by Jewish advocacy group B'nai Brith found there were 2,799 anti-Jewish hate crimes, including beatings, vandalism of synagogues and swastikas in schools.

Antisemitic incidents rose overall by seven per cent, but the number of violent incidents rose by over 700 per cent from nine in 2020 to 75 in 2021.

In one recorded incident a man allegedly gave a Nazi salute before assaulting a woman at a Toronto subway station, the report said. 

In another, an employee at an Ontario liquor store was assaulted by a customer who called him a "dirty f---king Jew." 

In January, swastikas were spray painted on the doors of a synagogue in Westmount, a Montreal suburb. In June, Montreal Kosher Bakery was firebombed, and in December, in Mount Royal, Que., huge swastikas were traced in the snow at an outdoor hockey rink.

The report found there was a surge in anti-Jewish hate crimes last May coinciding with escalating violence in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. Jewish pro-Israel demonstrators were beaten, had rocks thrown at them and were spat on.

At an anti-Israel rally in Winnipeg a man paraded a sign showing a figure dumping a star of David in a garbage can over the slogan, "Please keep the world clean." 

David Matas, senior legal counsel for B'nai Brith, said the Jewish community "leads the list" of minorities subjected to religious hatred. 

"If you are Jewish you are more likely to be a victim of a hate crime by far than if you are a member of another minority," Matas said. 

He told a press conference in Ottawa there was a "surge" in antisemitic incidents on university campuses.  

The report said post-secondary institutions were "significant breeding grounds for antisemitism" with Jewish students increasingly reporting vandalism and threats of violence. 

Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman said there is a "rising tide of antisemitism in this country" not just among the far-right but also among university faculty.  

"Antisemitism is one of the ugliest manifestations of racism," she said. 

The report found harassment of Jewish Canadians dropped slightly to 2,460 incidents in 2021 from 2,483 in 2020. But there was a rise of 12 per cent in online hate, attributed to more people communicating online during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

B'nai Brith, which verifies incidents, found that some Jewish candidates in the federal election, including Montreal-based Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, had their posters daubed with swastikas.

At a press conference in Ottawa on Monday, Housefather said antisemitism "is a grave problem."

He said he personally witnessed people in a car driving down a busy street in his constituency "screaming insults" out the windows including "kill the Jews, kill the Jews." 

The MP said the abuse frightened many constituents and that one asked if she should remove the mezuzah, a small decorative case containing lines from the Torah, from outside her door because it would identify her household as Jewish. 

Marvin Rotrand, national director of the League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith Canada, outlined "troubling trends" in a number of provinces. 

The most antisemitic incidents occurred in Quebec last year, which saw 828 incidents last year, up from 686 in 2020. 

British Columbia saw a 111 per cent increase, to 409 incidents in 2021 from 194 in 2020, including 56 cases of vandalism and 296 incidents of online abuse and hatred. 

Anti-Jewish abuse sharply increased in Alberta, and more than doubled in the Prairies and Nunavut. 

In Atlantic Canada there was a decline to 80 reported incidents in 2021 from 199. 

Ontario had the second-highest number of reports, but the 821 incidents in 2021 was a decline from the 1,130 in 2020.

NDP MP Randall Garrison, who represents Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, said he was shocked by the rise in cases in B.C.

The report included a case in Richmond, where a wooden post with the message "COVID is Jew World Order" was found on a busy street. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2022.

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press