With incidents of hate crimes and anti-Semitism on the rise worldwide, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver has taken steps to increase security measures at local Jewish institutions and deepen its relationships with the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).
At a VPD board meeting held at the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre on June 13, Jacquie Abbot, a hate crimes investigator with the VPD, said members of the Jewish and Muslim communities are the most targeted groups when it comes to hate crimes in the city, followed by the LGBTQ, Asian and black communities.
A Statistics Canada analysis revealed that, nationally, hate crimes rose for the fourth consecutive year in 2017. The majority of those crimes targeted the Muslim, Jewish and black communities. “That translates to an anti-Semitic hate crime taking place once every 24 hours in our country,” noted Nico Slobinsky, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ director of the Pacific region. “Behind every single experience of hate crimes is a family, an individual, an organization affected by this.”
In May, B’nai Brith Canada released an audit of anti-Semitic incidents that found a 126 per cent increase in such incidents in British Columbia in 2018, compared to 2017. The VPD saw reports of hate crimes increase from 46 in 2016 to 74 in 2017. There were 32 cases involving Jewish people or property. Hate crimes numbers will increase in the city when data is released for 2018, the VPD noted.
But the numbers aren’t a full indication of what’s going on, because incidents of hate tend to be significantly under-reported, said Const. Steve Addison, the VPD’s media relations officer. “We want that to change. We need witnesses and victims of hate crimes to call police, so we can investigate these incidents, understand what is happening in our neighbourhoods and help people feel safe and secure,” he said.
“Currently, there is no specific threat against the Jewish community or anybody else in the city. However, we are prepared in the event that something happens.”
Becky Saegert, the Federation’s associate vice-president of sales and marketing, said there have been several incidents over the past two years in which community organizations have received hateful letters or emails. “There has also been an increase in the number of sightings of hate-related graffiti and occasional verbal incidents. But we are not aware of any damage to property or physical confrontations, and the VPD and/or RCMP hate crimes teams have been quick to follow up and investigate,” she said.
The Federation’s most significant financial investments in security recently include the hiring of British army veteran Daniel Heydenrych-Davis as director of security, contributions to fund security guards at the JCC and funds to enhance security at smaller Jewish institutions. “Heydenrych-Davis has visited almost every community institution and worked closely with many to update their security audits, identify areas of risk and assist them in applying for government funding,” Saegert said.
“Several community organizations have already received their federal Security Infrastructure Program grants and, with Daniel’s assistance, a number of other organizations have submitted their applications.”
Upgraded security measures include the installation of window safety film, closed-circuit cameras, better access control and increased fencing around some buildings. “Several of the schools have security guards in place during the school week and most of the synagogues utilize a combination of volunteers and private security on Shabbat and Jewish holidays,” she noted.
Formal lockdown drills began in 2017 and have been conducted at the JCC and several synagogues. All schools conduct lockdowns and drills as part of their overall safety practices, which are required by the Ministry of Education.
“Our community knows full well the need for extra layers of safety and security in places like the JCC, synagogues and Jewish schools, a sad but necessary reality in 2019,” Slobinsky said. “We have an incredible partner in the Vancouver Police Department and we’re deeply grateful for the work they do to keep Vancouver safe.”
He encouraged the VPD to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, as a practical tool to identify what constitutes hatred of Jews, and to redouble its efforts to monitor and tackle extremism and radicalization, especially online.
Addison said the VPD “understands the concerns in Vancouver’s Jewish community and we take these concerns very seriously. Our officers train regularly to respond to threats in the community, and we have worked specifically with members of the Jewish community to ensure proper protocols are followed in the event of a hate crime or hate incident.”