In the wake of the deadly shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said that while there is “no information whatsoever to suggest an elevated threat to Jewish communities in Canada,” it has confirmed that police have increased their presence and boosted patrols near Jewish facilities across the country.
In a tweet, CIJA said that both Toronto police and York Regional Police “have confirmed to us that they have directed front-line units to increase presence around Jewish facilities.”
Canadian law enforcement reacted “quickly and decisively” following the Pittsburgh shooting, “and for that we are grateful,” CIJA said in an Oct. 27 statement.
In partnership with Jewish federations across Canada, CIJA said it will be “in ongoing contact with synagogues, schools, Jewish community centres and other community institutions, to ensure they are updated. If anything should change, we will inform the community.”
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said the force will “continue to monitor the situation and have made adjustments to local security,” tweeting that the police “stands with our Jewish community condemning the senseless violence against those in Pittsburgh.”
Toronto Police Services spokesperson Jenifferjit Sidhu sounded the same reassurances, telling The CJN that the force is making “the appropriate adjustments to our operations, in order to mitigate the potential risks to public safety.”
This includes “working with our local public- and private-sector partners, to use all of the resources available to us,” she said.
In York Region, a spokesman said over the weekend that the police force is increasing its presence and visibility “in all places of worship for the foreseeable future. We have no information that there is any type of threat; this is a proactive measure.”
Following the tragedy in Pittsburgh, York Regional Police went to all synagogues in the region and other institutions, “to check in, and we have increased our patrols in those areas, Const. Laura Nicolle told The CJN Monday morning.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said it spoke with police and authorities across Canada. “We asked them to immediately raise their level of vigilance around Jewish institutions and synagogues,” the organization said in a statement. “Police were immediately responsive and proactive and will continue supporting our community, as always.”
In the coming days and weeks, Jewish institutions “must increase awareness levels and security, as deemed necessary,” it added.
Across the country, Jewish facilities are reviewing their security arrangements with police and private contractors.
A spokesman for the Vancouver Police Department told CTV News that the force was in contact with the city’s Jewish federation and would “continue to liaise with the community and offer support.”
Ezra Shanken, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, told Global News that he wants local Jews to know “that there are no credible threats to this community.”
Shanken said the region’s Jewish community has been working with the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP for years, to ensure security at synagogues, and that protocols were put into place on the morning of the Pittsburgh attack.
“That went into action (the) morning when we heard what had happened, even though we know from our assessment that the threat in Canada is quite low right now,” Shanken told Global News. “But we still wanted to respond, and we responded very swiftly to ensure that people who were practicing their faith were protected.”
In Ottawa, police “have made patrols aware and we focus on vigilance,” Const. Chuck Benoit, a spokesperson for the Ottawa Police Service, told The CJN. “We’ve made all the officers aware of the ongoing situations around the synagogues.”
But he said there’s no intelligence to indicate a heightened threat to Jewish institutions in the city.
Following the Pittsburgh tragedy, Ryan Hartman, director of CIJA’s National Community Security Program, said he expressed the need to law enforcement across the country for heightened surveillance and monitoring as a precaution.
“In 99 per cent of cases, it was already done by law enforcement,” Hartman told The CJN. “As a matter of best practise, they did that anyway.”
Whether local federations and other institutions have staff acting as security, or hire private companies to do the job, they must ensure that lines of communication with law enforcement are open, Hartman advised.
Security at Jewish facilities is already “robust,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of taking the unfortunate lessons learned from this incident (in Pittsburgh) and ensuring that we can safeguard and mitigate that threat here at home.”
He’s encouraging all security policies and plans be reviewed “across the board,” and advised that rehearsals and drills be conducted.
Schools, summer camps and child care facilities already practice what to do in the event of an active shooter, or similar situation, Hartman said.
He also noted that the federal government’s Security Infrastructure Program provides funds to eligible institutions for measures such as lighting, alarms and surveillance systems.
Hartman counsels that Jewish institutions need to have “a security mindset. It’s being vigilant and understanding how we can prepare ourselves as average citizens (and) knowing your surroundings.
“We very much have to take that on board.”