A 17-year-old boy has been arrested and charged with assault and robbery, Toronto police announced Wednesday, after four teenage boys, all students at Yeshivas Lubavitch, were assaulted by between 10 and 12 youths on Nov. 11, as they were walking home in the Bathurst and Lawrence area.
The name of the person who was arrested cannot be released, because he is under 18 years of age.
The incident was being investigated as a hate crime, because of the verbal slurs that were used during the assault, and as a robbery, said Det. Angela Kahnt of the Toronto Police Service.
The charges were laid in consultation with Crown prosecutors and the attorney general’s office, said police spokesman Const. David Hopkinson. Police would not comment on whether more arrests would be forthcoming.
The four yeshiva students, who are all 17, were walking home on Fairholme Avenue, near Bathurst Street, around 8 p.m., when a larger group of young people saw their kippot, started making “derogatory comments” and began punching and kicking two of the boys, according to police. A pair of sunglasses was stolen from one of the victims.
The boys were able to “fend off anything serious,” but nonetheless, “they were very shaken up,” said Rabbi Akiva Wagner, rosh yeshiva of the school the four attend.
They were walking past a small park, when they were assaulted by the larger group, who appeared “under the influence” and some of whom were carrying broken bottles, he said.
“The boys were capable of looking out for themselves, it is the only reason they avoided something more serious,” Rabbi Wagner told The CJN.
There have been no incidents in the area for “quite a few years,” he added.
But now, the school will be emphasizing that students travel in groups, “which didn’t use to be seen as a necessity in the area,” he said. “We’re in contact with police to see what steps can be taken.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory tweeted that, “No one should ever be attacked for their religion. Please help Toronto Police solve this hate crime/robbery investigation.”
Michael Mostyn, the CEO of B’nai Brith Canada who met with the boys shortly after the assault, said the confrontation points to the problem of hate speech and incitement, an issue that B’nai Brith has long argued is not treated seriously enough by the courts and governments.
The boys were capable of looking out for themselves, it is the only reason they avoided something more serious.
– Rabbi Akiva Wagner
“Anti-Jewish derogatory comments, pro-Adolph Hitler comments … made while physically assaulting visibly Jewish youth, this is something very disturbing and something that B’nai Brith has been warning about for many years, which is incitement. This is why we’re so concerned with hate speech in our society, hate speech that is of an inciting nature against our community,” he said in an interview with The CJN.
Violence against Jews in Canada is “quite rare,” he said, “but the fact that it is rare doesn’t mean you can let up vigilance. We don’t want Canada to become a country where violence against Jews is accepted as a part of daily life.”
Jews remain the most targeted minority group for hate crimes, according to the Toronto Police Service’s 2017 Annual Hate Crime Statistical Report.
According to B’nai Brith’s annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada, incidents of vandalism doubled from 2016 to 2017, from 158 to 327, while the incidents of violence increased from 11 to 16.
While the numbers for 2018 have not been compiled, Mostyn said it seems unlikely that the trend will be reversed.
Noah Shack, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) vice-president for the Greater Toronto Area, said that, “We were deeply disturbed to learn of this vile assault on Jewish teens in Toronto,” and that CIJA’s security team was in communication with law enforcement.
“Jewish Canadians should never fear wearing their kippah in public. We are grateful to the Toronto Police Service for its rapid and professional response,” Shack said in a statement.
Anyone with information, or who may have surveillance video of the area, is asked to call Toronto police at 416-808-1300, or Crime Stoppers at 416-222-8477.