2023 was an ‘off the chart’ year for antisemitism in Canada, according to the annual audit released by B’nai Brith on Yom HaShoah

B'nai Brith Canada representatives David Matas (senior legal counsel), Henry Topas (Quebec regional director), Richard Robertson (director of research and advocacy) were joined by Liberal MP Marco Mendicino, Conservative deputy leader Melissa Lantsman and independent MP Kevin Vuong on May 6, 2024.

A leading Canadian Jewish organization says high levels of anti-Jew hatred in Canada were present before Oct. 7—and have skyrocketed since the Hamas attacks on Israel and Gaza war. 

Now at record heights of antisemitic incidents across the country, B’nai Brith Canada says of its annual audit, the organization logged more than double the number of incidents from 2022 to 2023. 

Richard Robertson, B’nai Brith’s Director of Research and Advocacy, said the annual audit—which dates back to 1982—has served as “the authoritative document on the existence of antisemitism nationally.” 

He called the audit’s findings “an indicator of the state of antisemitism in Canada.” 

“If a physical barometer did in fact exist, the reading for 2023 would be off the chart,” Robertson said on May 6 at a news conference in Ottawa. 

Richard Robertson, Director of Research and Advocacy of B’nai Brith Canada, holds a copy of the organization’s 41st annual audit of antisemitic incidents in Canada for 2023 at a press conference in Ottawa on May 6, 2024. (CPAC)

With 5,791 incidents logged nationally from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2023, he said, there had been an average of 15 incidents a day (up from an average of eight per day in 2022), the highest tally ever recorded in the audit’s 41-year history.  

Robertson said the figure represents a 109.1 per cent jump in numbers of incidents B’nai Brith logged the previous year.

“In 2023 we entered a period of crisis,” he said. “Eight provinces or territories saw an increase of more than 50 percent,” in antisemitic incidents, he said. 

There had been 77 incidents of violence compared to 25 in 2022, he said, or a 208 percent increase in those acts pertaining to violence, including threats. 

Online attacks or harassment went up by 135 percent across the country, he said. In-person harassment also increased, by more than 40 percent overall.

Robertson said the audit’s statistics should concern all decent residents of the country. 

“Antisemitism is not only a blight on Jewish people. It is an attack on Canadian values and a threat to our multicultural, diverse society,” he said in a statement. 

“We urge people to think seriously about what this spike in antisemitic incidents says about the direction in which our society is heading.”

Robertson called the figures “horrifying” and “warrant an immediate action and response” from both government and non-governmental “societal stakeholders.”

He said the reality that underlies the numbers was concerning. 

“It is what cannot be directly extrapolated from the numbers that is perhaps most ominous,” he said. 

“The result of the aggressive rise in antisemitism is that Jews from coast to coast after being subjected to dehumanizing levels of hate over the course of the previous year, have been left feeling ostracized and abandoned,” he told a press gallery. 

“The systemic nature of the antisemitism has forced Canadian Jews to question the continued vitality of the nation’s Jewish communities… perhaps for the first time, there is a genuine concern that the Jewish Canadian narrative, a proud history inextricably linked to modern Canada and the betterment and advancement of our society, is at risk of being subject to erasure.”

Horrifying “notable examples” mentioned by B’nai Brith in a press release about the 2023 audit include that “a Jewish student in the Lower Mainland (Langley) of B.C. was physically assaulted by classmates while being taunted by antisemitic epithets” and that a Manitoba Jewish student “was confronted by classmates doing the ‘Sieg Heil.'”

In Montreal, a synagogue and Jewish community centre were firebombed. Days later, gunshots were fired at two Jewish schools,” read other examples.

“A man hollered antisemitic profanities and threw eggs in October at a Jewish Community Centre in Calgary, including a Holocaust Memorial Monument and vehicles in the vicinity.”

In the audit, B’nai Brith says it took care to show the impacts on Canadian Jews from a confrontation between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorists, in May of 2023.

B’nai Brith Canada’s audit found that 50.9 percent of antisemitic incidents in 2023 took place in the months following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel. (B’nai Brith Canada)

“When Israel is attacked, the repercussions extend far beyond its borders. Twice in 2023, due to a foreign conflict, Canada’s Jewish community was unduly subjected to scapegoating and hostility. The actions of a foreign government were used to justify the targeting of Jewish schools, houses of worship, institutions, businesses, and persons.”

Robertson said it was alarming how “the pervasiveness with which antisemitism permeated into the fabric of our society” in the past year. 

“But just as troubling is that the dramatic increase in antisemitism cannot solely be attributed to one factor or incident,” he said. 

“Antisemitism was omnipresent in Canada in 2023. Separate conflicts in Israel, first in May and June, and then Oct. 7 to end of year, did produce an increase in the number of antisemitic incidents.

“When there is unrest in Israel, Jewish Canadians suffer unduly,” he said, though he noted foreign conflicts are “not solely responsible for the surge in antisemitism in 2023.” 

In September, he noted, antisemitism had spiked following the celebration in the House of Commons of Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old Ukrainian-Canadian who served in the Nazi SS Galizien division during the Second World War.

The incident led then-Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota to resign from that role Sept. 26, a few days after inviting Hunka, reportedly unwitting of his links notorious Nazi division. The 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, sometimes called SS Galizien and SS Galichina or Galicia, was founded by Heinrich Himmler in 1943, and soldiers swore an oath to Hitler.

The cover page of B’nai Brith Canada’s 41st annual audit of antisemitic incidents in Canada.

Robertson said that the 2023 report also found there’s an increasing use of Artificial Intelligence to “produce and promote” antisemitic incidents, and noted that university campuses had become places Jewish students and staff were being “forced to cope” with the impacts of anti-Israel rhetoric on their academic environments. 

“What is clear is that the situation is untenable and requires urgent intervention,” he said. 

“As Canadians we must collectively act to ensure that the dramatic rise in antisemitism witnessed in 2023 does not intensify in 2024. We are on a precipice, and cannot allow our society to fall into the abyss. The absurd rise in antisemitism is not reflective of our shared morals and values.

“Canada, we can do better.”

Speaking at a ceremony Monday to commemorate Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, at the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called out rising antisemitism in Canada.

After he thanked the Holocaust survivors present at the ceremony for their strength and commitment to sharing their stories with future generations, Trudeau said there had been a “disturbing increase” in antisemitism “to a scale we had not witnessed for generations.”

Windows of synagogues have been broken and shot at… Jewish stores vandalized … all of these acts open wounds of painful chapters in our collective history,” said Trudeau to the crowd at the Holocaust Memorial.

“There are people out there who are still denying the Holocaust. There are people out there who deny what happened on Oct. 7. And I know that too often over the past months, Jewish Canadians have felt and have been isolated and unsafe in their communities. People have felt unsafe to live openly Jewish lives in Canada. And that’s not right.”

He called behaviour targeting Jews, including Zionist Jews, unacceptable.

“In a country like Canada, it should be and it must be safe to declare oneself a Zionist, Jewish or not,” said the prime minister.

“Zionism is not a dirty word or something anyone should be targeted for agreeing with. It is the belief, at its simplest, that Jewish people, like all peoples, have the right to determine their own future. 

“Threatening, harassing, or excluding Canadians, because of their faith, their identity, or because they support the Jewish people’s right to self determination in their ancestral homeland is absolutely unacceptable,” said Trudeau.

“You can be a Zionist and strongly support the creation of a Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel, a view I know is shared by many in the Jewish community, and across Canada,” he said. “It’s my belief, too.”

With a nod to some of the tense demonstrations taking place in Canadian cities, and around the many encampments at Canadian universities like McGill, University of Toronto, University of British Columbia and University of Ottawa, (among others in B.C. and Ontario), Trudeau addressed popular rhetoric in pro-Palestinian protests that can veer or may be veering into antisemitic rhetoric.

“Antisemitism in any form, whether it’s on the internet or in certain chants we’ve been hearing is unacceptable,” he said.

A current popular chant at demonstrations characterizes “all Zionists” as “racists” and “terrorists.”

“We all know that antisemitism wasn’t new 80 years ago and it didn’t stop in 1945,” said Trudeau.

Before he concluded, Trudeau mentioned Debra Lyons, the current special envoy on Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism, and the former envoy, Irwin Cotler.

Cotler taught him that “antisemitism is the canary in the coal mine of global hatred,” Trudeau said.

“The work of combating antisemitism should not fall to the Jewish community to solve alone,” nor to Lyons alone, or other agencies or individuals.

“It is up to everyone to take on this challenge, all Canadians together.”