Friday, 18 Sep 2020

Police presence in Jewish communities across Canada to be increased following Pittsburgh shooting

Toronto police will increase its visibility at synagogues, while Jewish advocacy groups say law enforcement will increase its presence across the country in Jewish communities after a gunman killed at least 11 at a synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday.

A spokesperson for York Regional Police said that it will be “increasing visibility at synagogues in the region.”

“Officers will be attending and will be inside as well,” the official said. “Officers are attending with the goal of trying to give everyone a sense of calm. They’re asking anyone who sees anything suspicious to contact them.”

Toronto police said in a statement that they will “continuously monitor issues and make appropriate adjustments in our plans in order to mitigate potential risks to public safety.”

“We do not disclose the specifics of our security plans,” the statement read.

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders said his officers have “made adjustments to local security” in a tweet.

In addition, a statement from Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC), a Canadian Jewish human rights foundation, said Vancouver police Chief Adam Palmer reported that his department has instituted patrols around Jewish facilities “right away” and that the Edmonton police department will do the same.

Martin Sampson, a spokesperson for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), a Jewish advocacy group, said: “Law enforcement across Canada have, as a precaution, directed front line resources to increase presence around Jewish neighbourhoods and Jewish institutions.”

“We are in touch with all major law enforcement agencies, at all levels,” he said. “They have signaled directly to us [that they have increased their presence.]  Local presence has increased — more visible presence of front line police resources in and around Jewish community institutions and neighbourhoods.”

The presence will “certainly” be extended through the weekend, Sampson said.

“Canadian law enforcement has reacted quickly and decisively to this situation, and for that we are grateful,” Sampson said. “Though there is no information to suggest an increased security threat in Canada, we have reminded our community right across the country that it is important to remain vigilant.”

Robert Bowers, 46, has been arrested as a suspect in connection with the shooting in Pittsburgh, Pa., that killed at least 11 at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue. CNN has reported that the gunman made anti-Semitic remarks during the shooting and he shot at police who arrive on the scene.

Anti-Semitism has increased in Canada in the last couple years, according to reports.

According to a 2016 report from Statistics Canada, hate crimes against Jewish people saw the largest spike from the year before among religious groups, from 178 incidents reported to police in 2015 to 221 reported in 2016. These increases were recorded mainly in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba.

Jewish people were also the targets of the most hate crimes out of any religious group in 2016, according to the report.

According to an audit done by B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy group, 2017 was a record-breaking year for anti-Semitism in Canada. The audit found that there were 1,752 recorded incidents of anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitic vandalism more than doubled across the country, breaking the record for number of incidents at 327.

The audit ranked Ontario as the number one region in Canada for anti-Semitic incidents, with a total of 808 reported incidents in 2017. Quebec came in second with 474 incidents of harassment and vandalism — the highest number ever recorded in the 36 year history of the audit, according to B’nai Brith’s Quebec regional director, Harvey Levine.

— With files from Rahul Kalvapalle, Monique Scotti and Anne Leclair

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