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CIJA calls on government to increase security subsidies for religious institutions

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(Vince Alongi/CC BY 2.0)

In the wake of last month’s shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in which 11 worshippers were murdered, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is intensifying calls on the federal government to enhance the Security Infrastructure Program (SIP) for vulnerable communities.

The former Conservative government established the program in 2007 to help communities with a demonstrated history of being victimized by hate-motivated crime, by helping them defray security costs at houses of worship, schools and community centres.

It has since helped synagogues and other Jewish facilities pay for lighting, alarm systems, CCTV cameras and other security measures. The program funds up to half of costs, to a maximum of $100,000 per project.

Following the massacre in Pittsburgh, CIJA called for Ottawa to expand the program’s annual budget, raise the $100,000 cap on grants and allow funds to be used to train staff and volunteers in security procedures and drills.

The training aspect “is particularly crucial, as we know that training in lock-down and emergency procedures can, and does, save lives,” CIJA spokesperson Steve McDonald told The CJN.

The federal program does not cover costs for armed security guards or off-duty police officers. Neither does it currently help with training for emergency situations, McDonald noted.

READ: CANADIAN JEWISH COMMUNITY INCREASES SECURITY, FOLLOWING PITTSBURGH ATTACK

Including training is “a natural extension of the program and one that has a huge practical impact in improving security and saving lives,” McDonald said.

Offsetting security personnel costs, especially for paid-duty police officers, is important, “but we’re directing it toward the municipal and provincial levels because we believe all three levels of government should be playing a role in this issue,” he added.

To that end, CIJA is also calling on the Ontario government to provide support for training staff and volunteers in security procedures, and funds to cover half the costs of paid-duty police officers at peak times, such as the High Holidays.

CIJA is also asking the City of Toronto and York Region to defray costs by offering discounts for paid-duty officers and erecting physical barriers outside Jewish facilities.

Since the attack in Pittsburgh, Peter Kent, the Conservative MP for the riding of Thornhill, said he’s received a number of calls from rabbis and security officials at synagogues expressing concern. They add to calls he’s received over the years from small congregations or those with lesser means, expressing concerns over how to pay for security.

The Pittsburgh attacks have “raised these concerns to a new high,” Kent told The CJN.

I am confident that this tragedy and the current heightened environment of anti-Semitism will be taken into consideration when funding levels and requirements are reviewed.
– Michael Levitt

He said he’s asked for meetings with CIJA and B’nai Brith Canada, “to really come up with an approach, some sort of consensus, on what might be done to provide more meaningful security around those congregations that perhaps can only afford one paid officer on duty on High Holidays or at certain times of perceived higher risk.”

Bnai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said that, “We want to have real safety. We don’t need security for show.”

His organization seeks security that is “effective, sustainable and affordable,” and is also working with the federal government on the SIP program.

He noted that B’nai Brith has an eight-point plan to combat anti-Semitism that includes instituting a dedicated hate crimes unit at every municipal police force.

York Centre Liberal MP Michael Levitt noted that funding for the SIP program was doubled in last year’s budget, “and I am confident that this tragedy (in Pittsburgh) and the current heightened environment of anti-Semitism will be taken into consideration when funding levels and requirements are reviewed.”

Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, told The CJN in an email that the government “is always looking for ways to enhance the Security Infrastructure Program and will continue to listen closely to safety concerns of the Jewish community and others groups at risk of hate-motivated crimes.”

SIP will invest up to $10 million over the next five years to help non-profit groups enhance their security.