Sept. 17, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD
Hamilton police are reporting a rise in antisemitic hate graffiti as COVID lockdowns ease.
Det. Paul Corrigan, head of the Hamilton Police Service’s hate crimes unit, said reported incidents have risen in the last three weeks after lagging sharply for several months.
Corrigan added that while the year-over-year number is still down sharply from 2019, likely because of COVID-related lockdowns, the recent increase is still of concern.
“The reason we’re seeing an uptick is because it had been reasonably quiet for a while with people locked down because of COVID,” he said. “It’s not an increase over normal times, it’s just an increase over abnormal times.
“I’m no statistical expert, but I’m guessing it’s because of COVID,” he added.
To date, 42 hate crimes have been reported in Hamilton, compared to over 80 for the same period last year. Jews were the targets of 15, or 36 percent, of those incidents. Of that total, 14 were graffiti incidents. Only one, a minor assault in January with antisemitic insults thrown in, involved a serious crime. That case is still before the courts.
The most recent incident occurred over the Labour Day weekend in the Dundas neighbourhood of Greensville, a collection of higher-end homes atop the Niagara escarpment. Three swastikas were drawn on roadways, shocking residents out enjoying the last long weekend of the summer.
Resident Kristin Glasbergen told CBC she saw one of the hate symbols while out for a morning stroll and another two days later.
“I called the city to let them know and I posted on Facebook to let the community there know,” she said. “This doesn’t happen in Greensville.”
David Arbuckle, another area resident, told CBC he was “shocked and disgusted that someone took the opportunity to purposely spread a message of hate in our community.”
Reactions like that are common, Corrigan said, and it’s a chief reason he classifies something a swastika chalked onto a roadway as a hate crime.
“Some police services don’t look at that as a hate crime. They see it as a criminal offense of graffiti, but I look at the swastika as a symbol of hate,” he said. “I know the argument that it’s a peace symbol to a Buddhist, but when I see a swastika, I see it as criminal and there is a hate-bias motivation to it.”
While that approach may give some the impression Hamilton is a hate-filled place, Corrigan said he will continue to rate incidents that way until the federal government comes up with a national definition.
In 2019, Hamilton was dubbed the “Hate Crime Capital” of Canada after Statistics Canada figures showed that hate crimes in the city the year before were up 6.6 per cent against a national decrease of 13 percent.
With reported incidents averaging 17.1 per 100,000 people, the rate in Hamilton was more than three times the national average.
Jews remain near the top of the list as targets of such crimes.
Hate crime in Hamilton and area continued through 2019. In Burlington, for example, two men were charged after six antisemitic incidents were reported in May and June.
In those cases hateful messages were posted on the front door of Burlington City Hall, on streetlamp posts, and private vehicles.
Just as charges were laid in the Burlington incidents, members of Hamilton’s Beth Jacob Congregation arrived for Shabbat morning services last Oct. 5 to find four hate messages crudely scrawled in their parking lot and on the street in front of the synagogue.
The drawings included a swastika, and the word “Jews” crossed-out in a circle.
While local police services grapple with the problem of crudely-drawn hate symbols aimed at Jews, B’nai Brith Canada is urging the federal government to use its upcoming Speech from the Throne to bring in new legislation to deal with antisemitism.
In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said COVID has “accelerated the bitterness of attacks faced by the Jewish community,” and called for a national action plan to combat antisemitism.
The plan, Mostyn wrote, should include standardized and mandatory school programs on antisemitism and the Holocaust overseen by a new official reporting directly to the prime minister.
Mostyn argued Canada should now take “practical steps” to implement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which Ottawa adopted last year as part of an anti-racism plan.
“We believe the government should emphasize that addressing racism, antisemitism, hate speech and hate crimes is a public safety issue, not just a multicultural issue and that combating these is one end of the spectrum of countering radicalization to violence,” he wrote.
Mostyn also urged Ottawa to pour resources into digital literacy programs; to refuse diplomatic engagement with Iran unless it accepts Israel’s right to exist; declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization; denying funding to UNRWA, the UN agency overseeing Palestinian refugees; deporting Nazi war criminals like Helmut Oberlander; and ratifying the 2002 Convention on Cybercrime that criminalizes online racism.