Anti-Semitic threats continue to plague Jewish community north of Toronto

VAUGHAN, Ont. (CP) – A rash of anti-Semitic incidents continued to plague a community north of Toronto on Tuesday, when police announced that a synagogue had been pelted with eggs, two more schools were vandalized and two teens had been arrested for making harassing phone calls.

The near-daily reports of hate crimes – in recent days including toppled headstones and spray-painted swastikas – surprised community leaders who expressed anger and sadness.

“I’ve been in this job for 20 years and I have not seen such a consistent and incessant ongoing campaign of hatred against the Jewish community,” said Bernie Farber, executive director of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

“We have a few lunatics out there who think it’s a comfortable time to engage in this hateful activity, the message they’re getting is: ‘Go back under your rock from which you came.”‘

Police were called to the Lubavitch Centre synagogue on Tuesday morning to find it had been pelted with eggs.

The discovery came as police revealed two more schools had been vandalized with graffiti – St. Elizabeth Catholic High School where the Star of David and the words “Revenge 4 Nazis” had been spray-painted on the back doors and Pleasantville Public School in nearby Richmond Hill where two swastikas and other unknown symbols had been spray-painted on a door.

In addition, police said two Toronto boys, aged 13 and 14, were arrested Monday for allegedly making several anti-Semitic and harassing phone calls to a Vaughan family.

Farber suggested the continuing attacks, which have centred on but have not been exclusive to largely Jewish neighbourhoods north of Toronto, point to copycat criminals.

Police said that was a possibility, noting the arrests and various incidents have included young teens, a 46-year-old man and various locales in the Greater Toronto Area.

Det. James Hogan of the Toronto police hate crimes unit described the phenomenon as akin to mob mentality in which repeated attacks can build a sort of momentum among sympathizers and spur others to commit similar crimes.

“People get emboldened, they see this happening and it conforms with their beliefs or something they wanted to do and ... they feel like they want to be part of that, even if it’s repugnant and stupid,” said Hogan.

“They sort of feel like they’ve been given a little licence to do this to vent their feelings and go and do it whereas before ... it would require them to display some more initiative.”

Toronto police charged Reza Safaei, 46, on Monday for allegedly spray-painting a swastika and other graffiti at a construction site in Toronto’s west end.

Police said they didn’t believe the incident was directly linked to the more serious crimes north of the city.

Over the weekend, $20,000 in damage was done to tombstones and benches at a Jewish cemetery and Nazi swastikas and slogans advocating death to Jewish people were painted on several buildings in Toronto’s north end.

Early last week, 13 homes and several cars in Vaughan were defaced with similar hate messages.

Farber urged officials to send a clear message that bigotry and hatred will not be tolerated. He called on the Crown to prosecute anyone arrested in the crimes to the fullest extent of the law.

“Now that a couple people have been apprehended, it doesn’t matter if they’re juveniles in the system or adults in the system ... these people have to be charged under the hate provisions of the Criminal Code,” he said.

Farber said he expected hundreds of people to turn out for a rally against bigotry the congress will host on Wednesday. Community leaders expected to attend include Premier Dalton McGuinty and the mayors and police chiefs of Toronto and Vaughan.

In the meantime, York Region police said they have beefed up patrols and increased their public profile by using their helicopter, marked and unmarked police cars and extra officers in affected areas.

“There’s a tremendous amount of anxiety. I think people are extremely upset,” said Const. Kim Killby, noting the attacks have reached beyond the Jewish community,

“This is Canada, you don’t generally think about things like this happening in Canada. I think that it has resulted in a tremendous amount of suspicion and upset and disbelief.”

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