Editorial: The Age of Unreason

Dec. 3, 2020

We get texts, we get emails and we get letters. Very often, the communications take to task a published op-ed or story. However, over the past months, we have also heard from pandemic deniers, conspiracy theorists, and assorted loons, many of whom are hell-bent to convince us that our reality is a lie and theirs is real.

One such writer (unidentified, for obvious reasons) is not a bad sort. He is in his 60s, self-described as having a “worthless degree in music performance” with “30 years of dead end jobs.” He seems, sadly, grist for the growing mill of what Hillary Clinton once called the “basket of deplorables.”

Let’s call him “Reggie.” Here is a small sampling of Reggie’s messages to us:

“I see ‘Covid-19’ for the abominable fraud that it is… Why are you so determined to believe that ‘Covid-19’ – if it exists and that is debatable – is some pestilence on a par with Ebola, Small Pox and The Black Death combined? You’re a leader of the community. You have a duty to provide people with an accurate perception of what’s really going on out there…and sorry…I don’t think you’re doing that.”

And: “Forgive me for this: Are you really this dense? I don’t NEED to visit an emergency ward! WHERE, are the sick? WHERE are the dead? 9 months of this BS story, I’ve yet to see 98 percent of the people I talk to have not seen, first-hand, ONE credible case. ‘Covid-19!!’ Turn off your telescreen, go outside, and LOOK AROUND YOU!”

By now, the reader’s eyeballs must be bouncing off the floor. However, it seems that Reggie is not one of a very tiny community of subterraneans who have burrowed deep into the ground to avoid what is right before their eyes. He is tragically among a growing group in what some are calling a new age of unreason.

How else to explain Toronto restaurateur Adam Skelly defiantly ignoring lockdown rules in order to keep open for indoor dining? (That it took authorities days to act is another story). Skelly, who has become the poster boy of the so-called “hoaxademic” crowd, has less than savoury support from extreme right-wing racists like Kevin Johnston, who’s awaiting trial on hate charges; white nationalist Christopher Vandeweide, convicted of assault in Hamilton and recently arrested for breaching his probation and threatening assault; and the granddaddy of the far right in Canada, Paul Fromm.

This convergence of right-wing extremism and virus denial is not confined to Toronto. Kingston, Ottawa, London, Montreal, Edmonton, and Vancouver have all seen the “hoaxademic” crowd gather, sometimes in large numbers, and, naturally, without masks.

Those who have dared to speak out publicly against these marches have found themselves threatened in online platforms. Just ask Stephen Hargreaves of Windsor Ont., who posted his concerns following a recent anti-mask event to his Instagram account. According to a CBC story, he received threats of violence posted to his account that were so horrific, the CBC refused to publish them because of its “disturbing content.” Windsor police are investigating.

In the end, these pandemic deniers are still a minuscule number. The vast majority of Canadians understand the real danger posed to our health, but we cannot turn a blind eye. It is here where we count on authorities to ensure that health regulations are followed.

We count on police not to dither. Businesses breaking the law need to be held to account. If fines are not severe enough, make them more punitive until people understand that society will simply not put up with endangering our collective health.

This is deadly serious and it’s time we all take responsibility in calling out the deniers. Your life and health may very well depend on it.

Cattle Car Replica Helps Students Stand Against Hate

Nov. 11, 2020

By SUSAN MINUK

When it comes to hate crimes, no group in Canada is more heavily targeted than Jews. In an innovative and strategic push for change, 25-year old Jordana Lebowitz has founded ShadowLight, a not-for-profit Holocaust education centre set within…a cattle car.

“We want to help people connect to the survivor stories while being immersed in this historical space,” explains Lebowitz of the unique setting for her effort.

“The Cattle Car: Stepping in and Out of Darkness” was launched Oct. 18 at the Toronto Railway Museum. It is an interactive, multimedia installation within an exact replica of a Second World War-era cattle car that was used to transport Jews and other targeted groups to concentration and extermination camps.

At the Oct. 18 launch of the cattle car exhibit: Jordana Lebowitz, founder of ShadowLight, and Michael Levitt president and CEO, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center. (Photo by ShadowLight)

As the installation’s name suggests, the windowless wooden freight cars were originally intended to transport cattle. At least 150 unfortunates were crammed into each car, without food, water, washroom facilities, or the ability to sit down. Many perished en route to death mills. Historians have suggested that without the mass transportation carried out on Europe’s railways in these box cars, the scale of the Final Solution would have been much different.

As Holocaust survivors diminish in number, ShadowLight’s installation inspires future generations to take action against injustices around them, say Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC), which has partnered with ShadowLight to advance Holocaust education in Canada.

“Holocaust education is the key tool in the fight against and prevention of antisemitism and hate that we are sadly seeing rear its ugly head all too often around the world,” said Michael Levitt, FSWC president and CEO. “Our goal is to work together with Jordana and ShadowLight to create course material for students and make this an even fuller experience on campuses.”

The cattle car museum on wheels will visit school campuses throughout Canada.

Lebowitz’s passion project was born when she was a 16-year old CHAT student taking part in the March of the Living.

She was in the one-time Nazi death camp of Majdanek when she saw a megillah scroll in a glass box, “and that made me sad, yet I realized the story doesn’t end here in a massive pile of ashes,” Lebowitz recalled.

That wisdom planted the seed. She searched for months for a cattle car. Finally, in 2015 as a second-year student at University of Guelph, and with help from Hillel, she brought the cattle car to campus. It has since been displayed every year at the University of Guelph for Holocaust Education Week.

“Jordana drove the whole concept with her student leaders. It was the first incarnation of her program ShadowLight,” said Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario. “FSWC has the ability to take this out in the community and amplify it.”

As a co-op student, Lebowitz worked at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, the Jewish Holocaust Center in Melbourne, Australia, and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Lebowitz revisited the cattle car initiative with a renewed determination to bring the powerful educational tool to other school campuses. ShadowLight was incorporated in 2018, with a team of 20 young volunteers and 20 advisors.

“We brought Holocaust survivors Hedy Bohm and Nate Leipciger into a green screen studio and filmed their stories,” said Lebowitz.

Actors then brought their stories to life. “The walls fill up with people to visualize how many would have been squished in this space,” Leibowitz explained. “There are 100 hand-painted footprints on the ground to show how closely family groupings were.”

Lebowitz, who’s pursuing her masters in education remotely from the University of Southern California, marvels about her creation. “I never thought that ShadowLight would come to life,” she said.

The cattle car exhibit runs about 30 minutes and is recommended for students Grade 8 and above. The second public showing will take place on Nov. 15 and 16 at Wychwood Barns Park in Toronto’s St. Clair Ave. W. and Christie Street area. Strict COVID safety measures are in effect.

To book tickets, click here.

An Undelivered Submission on Bill 168

Nov. 2, 2020

On Oct. 26, Ontario’s cabinet surprised many when it decided to bypass committee hearings and adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, contained in Bill 168, the “Combating Antisemitism Act.” Ontario thus became Canada’s first province to adopt the definition.

Bill 168 passed second reading earlier this year and according to one source, more than 100 Ontarians had requested a chance to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice Policy to have their say – both for and against adopting the IHRA definition, or to suggest amendments.

Among the undelivered deputations was the following from Randi Skurka, appearing as an individual.


Good morning/afternoon, 

Firstly, I’d like to thank the committee for the opportunity to participate in today’s hearing.

As the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism in the world today, endorsed by a growing number of countries, academic bodies, even making inroads in the Middle East, it is crucial that Ontario adopt the IHRA definition.

I am forever grateful to my grandparents, who bravely left Poland a century ago to make their home here in Toronto. Fleeing pogroms and deeply ingrained prejudices, they came in search of a better life where they could live as Jews in freedom and safety. My 92-year-old father remembers the antisemitism he experienced as a young person, even here. I grew up believing that those days were over. But I was wrong.

According to Statistics Canada, Jews are the most targeted group for police-reported hate crimes in the country. Jewish students on campuses across Canada have been singled out, ostracized or attacked for years simply for expressing their Jewish identity. For example, over the past year alone, they were denied kosher food at the University of Toronto, kicked off the student union at McGill University for planning a visit to Israel, and at York University, were threatened with violence for attending a talk featuring Israeli speakers. Antisemitism masquerading behind the veneer of anti-Zionism is a growing problem in Canada and internationally.

It all starts with words. When Israel Apartheid Week was launched at U of T in 2005, it used hateful rhetoric singling out Israel alone as a human rights abuser. Together with the BDS movement, which has been condemned by our own prime minister, Justin Trudeau, as blatantly antisemitic, these campaigns have proliferated around the world, creating a toxic atmosphere in which harassment and targeting of Jewish students have become mainstream.

These movements represent themselves as peaceful, nonviolent forms of protest. But the last two decades have proven otherwise. Conceived by known anti-Israel activists, whose clearly stated goals are the complete elimination of the State of Israel, the manifestation of these movements has been nothing less than the total isolation and social death of any student or faculty member that dares to defend Israel’s right to exist. 

A recent survey has shown that the Canadian Jewish community, small but mighty, defines itself with things like Holocaust remembrance, tradition, and working for social justice. Though widely diverse religiously and politically, one feature among all others unites them – for a full 86 percent of Canadian Jews, their connection to Israel is an important and essential part of their identity. 

The IHRA definition clearly states that criticism of Israel in the form of civil discourse is not considered antisemitic. Yet, all too often, this criticism is presented in a historical vacuum without any sense of context, intended to mislead its audience. This is exactly what the Soviet Union did starting in the late 1940’s – take those old canards and hateful caricatures, and harness them to persecute and demonize Jews now behind a façade of anti-Zionism. How soon we have forgotten the decades of oppression and incarceration of Soviet Jewish dissidents simply because of their identity.

These are the same dangerous myths that are rearing their ugly heads today.

Just this past July, two anti-Israel rallies, one in Toronto, one in Mississauga, graphically demonstrated how anti-Zionism is used as a cover for plain old antisemitism. They were organized by known hate groups with a strong presence on Ontario campuses. Far from peaceful, they quickly devolved into hatemongering and incitement to violence, with the chanting of slogans such as “intifada, intifada”, “from the river to the sea,” and most frightening of all, “The Jews are our dogs.” Is this any way to rally for human rights, here, in Ontario?

The Arab-Israeli conflict is longstanding and very complex. The only way to resolve the issues is for the two parties to sit down together at the negotiating table and have direct dialogue. Just recently, Canada applauded as Sudan followed UAE and Bahrain in establishing a peace agreement with Israel. The Middle East is rapidly changing and finally acknowledging Israel as a partner and a neighbour. This is the way of true progress and liberalism.

It’s time to leave the ancient myths and medieval tropes in the past, where they belong. To embrace each other and give each other space. To listen to one other. To rely on data and facts on the ground. To promote freedom. To build bridges, instead of threatening destruction. The IHRA definition of antisemitism will help to confront the escalating revival of an ancient hatred, and stop it once and for all, so that all of us may feel welcome and safe.

Thank you.


Randi Skurka

Randi Skurka is a writer and lay leader in the Jewish community, with a focus on education and antisemitism. She sits on the boards of Beth Sholom Synagogue and StandWithUs Canada, and holds a Master of Arts degree in Jewish Studies.

Suspect Identified in Vaughan Antisemitic Incidents

Sept. 29, 2020 – Investigators with the York Regional Police Hate Crime Unit are appealing for assistance to locate a man wanted in connection with multiple hate-motivated incidents in the City of Vaughan.

On Sept. 18, officers responded to a call for a hate-motivated incident in the area of New Westminster Drive and Steeles Avenue. According to a statement from York Regional Police, the caller had been driving his vehicle when a suspect not known to him began yelling antisemitic remarks. The victim recorded the suspect, who approached the vehicle and “attempted to assault him,” police say.

Investigators believe this event is connected to six other incidents that began on Sept. 18 involving graffiti found on garage doors and vehicles on Mullen Drive.

Police believe the graffiti were hate-motivated. They referenced both the Black and Jewish communities.

Kurt Edwards
Kurt Edwards

Investigators have identified the suspect as Kurt Edwards, 43, of no fixed address, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. Anyone with information on his location, or information on the incidents, is asked to contact investigators.

“The accused is urged to seek legal advice and turn himself in,” say police.

“York Regional Police does not tolerate hate crime in any form,” said the statement. “Those who victimize individuals based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or mental or physical disability will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Anyone with information can contact the York Regional Police #4 District Criminal Investigation Bureau at 1-866-876-5423, ext. 7441, Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS, leave an anonymous tip online at www.1800222tips.com.

Easing of COVID Restrictions = More Hate Graffiti

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.

Vulnerable Communities Get Boost to Combat Hate Crimes

July 24, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Programs aimed at combating hate crimes are getting a $1.7 million boost from the provincial government.

That’s what Premier Doug Ford’s government is making available in the latest distribution under the Safer and Vital Communities program.

Over the next two years, non-profit community agencies and First Nation band councils with a focus on hate crime will be able to apply for money in conjunction with local police departments and other community agencies.

In a news release announcing the fund, Sylvia Jones, Solicitor General and Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism, said the funds are an effort to find creative ways of dealing with the problem.

“Our government has zero tolerance for hate, racism and discrimination in all forms,” Jones said. “Effective solutions cannot come from government alone and the Safer and Vital Communities grant will allow community-based organizations to be full partners in the fight against hate in Ontario.”

To be eligible, groups must address hate-motivated crime in their community through programs and strategies. Applications could include recreational programs that positively affect the development of children and youth, raising awareness of hate-motivated crimes, as well as the improvement of security infrastructure. Successful applicants and projects will be announced in the winter of 2021.

Applications are open until Sept. 16.

The Safer Communities program operates on a two-year cycle. The last time grants were made to agencies such as Agincourt Community Services Association, Canadian Mental Association in Peel-Dufferin, Community Living Essex County, London Abused Women’s Centre and others.

The program was launched in 2004.

In a news release, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Toronto chair Barbara Bank welcomed the money as an “investment which will make a meaningful difference in the lives of all Ontarians who visit their local houses of worship or community centres which collectively spend millions of dollars every year on security costs.

“It is vital that all levels of government recognize that safety and security should not be a burden on vulnerable groups alone,” stated Bank. “As Canadians, we must ensure that all communities – no matter their race, religion, sex, or orientation – can carry out their communal activities without fear for their safety.”

The funding announcement “follows sustained [Jewish] community advocacy on the issue of community security.”

CIJA reminded that in 2018, Jewish Canadians formed one percent of Canada’s population but were the target of nearly 20 percent of all hate crimes in the country.