Hate crime charges have been laid against two men following a spate of ugly incidents in Burlington, Ont., in May and June.
The Halton Regional Police Service laid hate crime charges against Matthew Wasikiewicz, 21, and Kyle Kroeplin, 22, after a lengthy investigation into a series of anti-Semitic messages that were scrawled on private vehicles and public buildings, including the Burlington Art Gallery and Burlington City Hall.
After singling out two suspects, police sought permission from Ontario’s attorney general to lay charges of willfully promoting hate under the Criminal Code of Canada. That approval was given on Sept. 2 and the men were arrested and charged on Oct. 4. Both men were released after being charged and are due to appear in court on Oct. 30.
In a news release, Police Chief Stephen Tanner pledged an “unwavering” commitment to pursuing hate crimes in the region.
“There is no place in any community for hate. Perpetrators of crimes in Halton Region that target others because of their skin colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or any other factor will be rigorously pursued and brought to justice,” he said. “Everyone in our community has the right to live, work and play in an environment free from fear.”
The press release noted that detectives were able to unravel the case “through a tremendous amount of teamwork and collaboration with both internal investigative resources and external community participation.” That support came from local and national media, the city and local faith groups.
Police said the remaining incidents are still under investigation and additional charges are pending.
At the same time, across the bay in Hamilton, fresh anti-Semitic graffiti was found at a Conservative synagogue.
Members of Hamilton’s Beth Jacob Congregation arrived for Shabbat morning services on Oct. 5, to find four hate messages crudely scrawled in their parking lot and on the street in front of the shul.
The drawings, in sidewalk chalk, included a swastika, and the word “Jews” crossed-out in a circle.
“The police were informed and officers immediately arrived, and stayed with us throughout the whole service. Forensic experts came and took photographs. The graffiti was then cleaned up. Our security camera footage is being checked to see if the identity of the perpetrator(s) can be determined,” wrote Rabbi Hillel Lavery-Yisraeli on Facebook.
“We are thankful that the police are taking this incident seriously and hope that it doesn’t recur. Beth Jacob continues to being committed to the Jewish vision of universal peace and looks forward to a Hamilton that is free of hate and safe for all.”
Congregants and community allies took to social media to express outrage over the attack.
“This is hate crime. We will continue to fight against hate crime, by everyday actions of inclusion and kindness,” wrote Brenda Burjaw, who’s a member of the synagogue. “Please join me and my family in making kindness a priority.”
Rabbi Chuck Diamond, the former spiritual leader of the Pittsburgh synagogue where 11 people were murdered last year, declared in a Facebook post that, “I stand up to hate. I stand with the Hammer. I wish it was so easy as just to wipe it away.”
A neighbour of the synagogue took his reaction a step further. Rabbi Lavery-Yisraeli said that, “One of our neighbours … saw what was going on and brought us a bouquet of sunflowers, expressing his sorrow that this happened and hoping the flowers would cheer us all up”
In another statement of solidarity, a local preschool drew hearts, rainbows and other expressions of love on the same sidewalk.
In a note to the community issued Monday afternoon, Hamilton Jewish Federation president Jacki Levin, community engagement committee chair Larry Levin and chief executive officer Gustavo Rymberg said that while the incident may be upsetting, the Federation doesn’t believe it represents a threat to the community.
“While any incident of anti-Semitism is concerning and must be addressed fully, it must be done in a way that serves our community’s larger objectives, including avoiding stoking fears unnecessarily,” they wrote. “We did respond to a media request but do not plan to raise the profile of this incident any further.
“Part of Federation’s job is to determine the level of threat and react appropriately.… If we sense any increase to the threat level or believe that the community needs other information to maintain security we will communicate that immediately through all our channels.”