A rash of alleged hate crimes in Burlington, Ont., has sparked a new wave of security concerns among the city’s small Jewish population.
Halton regional police are investigating six incidents reported since May 21. All have been classed as hate crimes.
The incidents involved hate-laced messages posted on the front door of Burlington City Hall, on streetlamp posts and on private vehicles, including those in the parking lot of a local church.
Rabbi Stephen Wise, whose Shaarei-Beth El Congregation is the region’s only Jewish institution, said these incidents have triggered a level of alarm in the region’s 2,500-member Jewish community because they appear more organized than simple pranks.
“This is more than just some kids looking to get a reaction,” he said. “Most of the incidents we get seem more like mischief, but there was a plan here. They wore face masks, knowing they would be captured by a camera, their signs were pre-made and they had the tape ready.
“This wasn’t just some kids doing it as a joke. These were posted in very public areas where they knew they would get a reaction. It’s a little more upsetting because of that.”
Wise said the posters displayed “the usual anti-Semitic tropes,” lumping Jews and African-Canadians together as elements unwelcome in Canada.
“It wasn’t ‘death to the Jews’ or anything like that,” he said, adding he supports the police intention to treat the incidents as hate crimes.
“They have scaled it up to the appropriate level, in my opinion,” he said.
Support from the community, he added, was swift and direct, including regular contact with Halton police and local mayors. In addition, staff from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) are working with him to craft a letter to his congregation.
Noah Shack, CIJA vice president for the Greater Toronto Area, said the Burlington incidents are being taken seriously.
“Whether it is antisemitism or anti-Black racism, hate has no place in our province. We have been in contact with Halton Police, who are taking this very seriously, and offering support to Shaarei-Beth El congregation and the Jewish community.
“CIJA has reached out to our partners in the Black community to offer support. We need to work together to hold those who peddle in this toxic ideology accountable.”
Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward condemned the incidents in her online newsletter to constituents.
“I join Halton police in condemning this type of despicable behaviour. Hate absolutely has no place anywhere in our city,” she wrote. “Burlington is a place that embraces and celebrates diversity, acceptance and respect.”
In a media release dated June 5, Halton police issued photographs of the suspects taken from video cameras and asked for public assistance in identifying them.
Toronto-based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) also issued a news release, saying it has offered assistance to Halton police and joins the service in asking for public aid to identify the suspects.
“Members of the community who have information about any of the six incidents are being urged to stand up against hate by reaching out to police and helping ensure the perpetrators do not get away with spreading such hateful messages,” said FSWC president Avi Benlolo.
Police said the first known incident occurred on May 21 in the Dundas Street and Guelph Line area, and involved a “hate-motivated, racist message” left on a private vehicle. On May 23, an anti-Semitic poster was placed on a traffic post. The next incident occurred on May 26, when hate propaganda was placed on a number of vehicles in the parking lot of a church near Mainway and Walkers Line.
On May 30, a complainant reported an anti-Semitic message was written on their vehicle in marker. Sometime between June 1 and 2, anti-Semitic imagery was found posted on the front doors of the Art Gallery of Burlington. In the most recent known incident, similar imagery was found posted on the front doors of Burlington City Hall on the morning of June 2.
“Hate crime has no place in any community, and I am confident that the persons responsible behind these ignorant, cowardly and hateful acts will be quickly identified with the public’s assistance,” said Halton Deputy Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah in a news release.
“No one has the right to make another person feel fearful because of the colour of their skin, race, religion, ethnic origin or any other factor. The Halton Regional Police Service is committed to fully investigating these crimes and ensuring those responsible are brought to justice.”
Anyone with information on the incidents is asked to contact investigators at 905-825-4777. Tips can also be submitted to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) or through the web at haltoncrimestoppers.ca.