Canadian Cities Report Alarming Rise in Hate Crimes Amid Middle East Tensions

In response to the war between Israel and Hamas, Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw says the service is ramping up patrols at cultural centres, places of worship and schools across the city although there are currently "no credible threats." Police are also launching two command posts where officers can be “easily reached."

Canadian police departments are reporting a significant surge in hate crimes, with a notable rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia across several major cities, particularly since the escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas on October 7. According to the Ottawa Police in a statement to CBC News, there has been a noticeable increase in reported hate crimes since the outbreak of hostilities.

Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa—cities with the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Canada—are witnessing this disturbing trend, with police data reflecting a sharp uptick in incidents. This increase correlates with the intensification of the Middle East conflict, which has seen Israel engage in airstrikes and a ground invasion following a deadly attack by Hamas.

In Toronto, which harbors the country’s largest Jewish and Muslim communities, police chief Myron Demkiw reported more than a doubling of hate crime reports in October compared to last year. Demkiw said that from October 7 to 25, there were 15 antisemitic hate crimes, a significant rise from seven in the same period in 2022, and a stark contrast to the three incidents in 2021. Islamophobia is also on the rise, with five reported incidents in the aforementioned timeframe, compared to none in 2022 and one in 2021.

Montreal police relayed to CBC News that from October 7 to 25, they logged 14 and 38 hate crimes against the Arab-Muslim and Jewish communities, respectively. For comparison, the entirety of 2022 saw 50 religion-targeted hate crimes and 21 non-criminal hate incidents.

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Ottawa has seen 29 hate-motivated incidents from October 7 to 23, with Const. Cailey Walker, a spokesperson for the Ottawa Police Service, acknowledging to CBC News that the majority of these are linked to the ongoing Gaza conflict.

Calgary is also experiencing related tensions, with police hate crimes coordinator Matt Messenger reporting a consistent inflow of related incidents since October 7, diverging from the usual pattern where such spikes are typically short-lived.

The motivations behind these hate crimes are complex. David Hofmann, a sociology associate professor and the director of the criminology and criminal justice program at the University of New Brunswick, explained that “reactive hate crimes,” those responding to international events, differ from those perpetrated by established hate groups. These crimes often act as a cathartic expression for individuals seeking control amidst a challenging and volatile global event.

Notable recent incidents that have garnered media attention include the defacement of a rabbi’s home in B.C. with Nazi symbols, the desecration of a mosque in Ottawa, and instances of antisemitic vandalism in Toronto.

The Jewish community is enduring a particularly acute increase in targeted hate crimes, as data from Statistics Canada indicates a steady rise in antisemitic incidents over the past few years. Hofmann suggests that a growing acceptance of far-right rhetoric and conspiracy theories may contribute to the escalation of these crimes.

Conversely, the Statistics Canada report also indicates fluctuations in hate crimes against the Muslim community, with numbers varying significantly over the last four years.

Community leaders are expressing deep concern. Nuzhat Jafri, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, revealed that the current climate surpasses the post-9/11 atmosphere, while Michael Levitt, president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, expressed the Jewish community’s heightened state of fear.

Despite these challenges, Jafri remains hopeful, emphasizing the interdependence of communities and the shared responsibility to create a better world for all, regardless of faith or race.