Canadian Jewish advocacy group reports ‘uptick’ in anti-Semitism

Outside the family home in Vaughan, Andrew Sefton consults with a security company about installing surveillance cameras.

“We’re interested in enhancing the household security so that at least on a preventative, on a precautionary measure, we are going to be able to take care of future incidents if they have to occur,” said Sefton.

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He referred to an incident late Friday that is the subject of a York Regional Police investigation. Anti-Semitic graffiti was spray painted across his double garage with a swastika and hateful messaging.

READ MORE: Police investigating after anti-Semitic graffiti found on Vaughan home

“Quite alarmed, quite surprising in terms of the messaging about being watched and the swastika… This is a criminal act and there are consequences for criminal activity,” said Sefton.

On the same day the graffiti appeared, the editor of a newspaper that denies the Holocaust spoke in a Toronto courtroom at his sentencing hearing. James Sears is charged with willfully promoting hatred against Jews and women.

“The judge could still give me an absolute discharge. If he gives me an absolute discharge it’s as if there’s no conviction and we can keep publishing,” Sears told reporters outside of court.

“It causes the community more harm than good for me to be shutting down the paper.”

READ MORE: Crown seeks one-year jail term against Toronto editor convicted of promoting hate

For a third straight year in a row, Jewish advocacy group B’nai Brith Canada is reporting a rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents.

“We put out an annual audit on anti-Semitic cases each year since 1982. This is the first year in our 37-year history that there has been more than 2,000 incidents,” said Daniel Koren, a spokesperson for the group.

“Eighty per cent of the anti-Semitic acts took place online. But we are still seeing a great deal of violence and vandalizing. For the last five years at least, we’ve seen that there’s an uptick in terms of anti-Semitism. We are concerned that this is a new normal we are entering.”

At the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, the mission is to counter anti-Semitism and promote freedom, democracy and human rights. President and CEO Avi Benlolo said there are a number of factors contributing to the recent rise in hate.

READ MORE: Anti-Semitism on the rise in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, study finds

“You can blame it on nationalist movements, you can blame it on rising politicized anti-Semitism whether in France or in England, political leaders coming against the state of Israel on university campuses, at unions, some church groups, UN resolutions against Israel, all of this combined is creating that manifestation of hatred against the Jewish people and it’s wrong and it’s incorrect,” said Benlolo.

The human rights activist pointed to the Second World War as an example of a lesson to be learned.

“It wasn’t just that six million Jews were murdered, over 60 million people were killed in that overall war in every front and so the entire world could be dragged in if we allow hatred to prevail and that is why every single person if they think it doesn’t affect them — it does affect them,” he noted.

At the Village Shul, Rabbi Tzvi Sytner often fields questions from concerned congregants. Sytner said since the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting six months ago, the question of safety and security is top of mind.

READ MORE: 1 dead and 3 injured in shooting at California synagogue, officials say

“People will ask me personally, ‘What should I take out of this? How do I deal with this or how do I tell my children about this?” he said.

But Sytner insisted he does not fear for his safety.

“We have a security department that focuses solely on the security and so I don’t feel alone in this I feel it is our community together that are arm in arm in ensuring the safety of our community,” he said.

Sytner’s message is one of hope that applies to people from all walks of life.

“We have to be non-tolerant of it, anytime we see the hatred, we hear an anti-Semitic remark or hatred against any people or anybody we have to stop it,” he said.

“As a religion, as a race, as humanity, we have to put an end. We can’t allow the hatred to take place.”