With the wounds of the New Zealand mosque massacre and the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings still raw, the federal Liberals have doubled funding to a program that defrays security costs for houses of worship, schools, and community buildings.
The March 19 budget pledged an additional $2 million a year to the Security Infrastructure Program (SIP), bringing its funding to $4 million per year.
Begun as a pilot project by the previous Conservative government in response to vandalism aimed at religious and ethno-cultural communities, funded with $1 million annually, the Liberals, in 2017, doubled funding to $10 million over five years.
The program has helped synagogues, schools and other Jewish facilities pay for lighting, alarm systems, closed-circuit cameras, motion sensors and other security measures. It funds up to half of costs, to a maximum of $100,000 per project.
The latest recipient of funds was Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, which this month received more than $26,000.
In the wake of October’s shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, in which 11 worshippers were murdered, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) intensified calls on Ottawa to enhance the program.
“Obviously the horrific attack in Pittsburgh was an opportunity to redouble the effort at examining the program,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told The CJN in an exclusive interview the day after the budget.
Goodale said the program will continue to look at how to expand, including the possibility of funding emergency training.
“One of the things we learned from the incident in Pittsburgh is that if people are properly trained in terms of how to respond to an active shooting incident and how to deal with a lock-down, you will probably save lives,” he said. “I think that was pretty clear from the experience in Pittsburgh.”
He said his ministry is consulting with affected communities “about exactly what are the most useful features of training, advanced planning, and logistics management that can be most effective in keeping people safe.”
Goodale said he is also examining the 50-50 funding formula so that smaller, less affluent institutions can access funds.
“For large and relatively prosperous communities, the formula works well, but there well be others that are disadvantaged by the current matching requirement, and we’re taking a look at that.”
Also being examined is expanding the program to include cemeteries, Goodale said. “We have it under consideration.”
He said it is “highly regrettable that these sorts of measures are considered to be necessary. But in the deeply troubled world in which we live, we obviously have to take appropriate steps to keep people and communities as safe as they can be, and to join together to make the very clear point that there is no place for hate, not in Canada.”
The program does not help pay for security guards and off-duty police officers.
David Cooper, vice-president of government relations for CIJA, said he’s pleased with the increase in funding for SIP, and hopes Ottawa will address flexibility in the funding formula and helping with emergency training. He said CIJA will raise these matters with the government “in the coming weeks.”
Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said there was never a higher number of anti-Semitic incidents across Canada than last year, as found by the organization’s League for Human Rights.
“Given recent events in Canada and throughout the world, religious institutions remain at risk for hate-motivated crimes,” he said, adding that doubling funding to SIP is “most welcome.”
Mostyn said he’s also looking forward to details about a new anti-racism strategy, which was also announced in the budget.
Michael Levitt, Liberal MP for York Centre, said increasing support through programs like SIP is important.
“The Jewish community unfortunately remains at high risk of being targeted by hate-motivated crimes,” he said.
“I am delighted that [the budget] doubles SIP funding for security improvements to community institutions like schools, community centres, and synagogues. This builds on the government’s doubling of SIP two years ago, meaning the government has quadrupled its support to this essential program to protect vulnerable communities.”