Antisemitic incidents increased in 2021 for the sixth consecutive year—with a sharp jump in May 2021, during the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza—according to B’nai Brith of Canada’s League for Human Rights’ annual audit, released in Ottawa on April 25.
There were were 2,799 incidents reported across Canada in 2021, an increase of 7 percent from 2020, Michael Mostyn, B’nai Brith CEO, said at a press conference where he presented the Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents. “That is almost eight antisemitic incidents that have been recorded every single day.”
Violent incidents soared from nine in 2020 to 75 in 2021, an increase of 733 percent—most of them occurring in May. Nearly one-quarter, 23 percent of all incidents reported in the audit occurred that month, when raucous anti-Israel protests erupted in numerous Canadian cities.
“The Jewish community really did feel something changed in the month of May. Our community has been complaining for many, many years about incitement that’s been taking place on university campuses and that incitement will sooner or later lead to violence. We saw that violence start to emanate in a way our community… has never witnessed before,” Mostyn said.
“This was national, this wasn’t just in Toronto or Montreal. We saw incidents in Calgary, in Edmonton, in Winnipeg… It wasn’t just chanting, it was sometimes (people) at these protests looking out for individual Jews or Israel supporters that had peeled off from the crowd and violently attacking those individuals, about (people) going through Jewish neighbourhoods and asking ‘Where are the Jews?’”
The annual audit also recorded 2,093 acts of online hate—an increase of 12 percent over the previous year—while in-person harassment dropped by 40 percent, largely due to pandemic lockdowns that compelled people to stay indoors. Incidents of vandalism also increased, with 264 acts recorded, an increase of 123 percent over last year.
Ontario experienced a decline in incidents, while Western Canada and Quebec showed marked increases. British Columbia recorded 409 incidents, up from 194 the year before. Quebec had the most incidents overall with 828 incidents reported, an increase of 20 percent from 2020.
The audit also noted an increase of antisemitic incidents on university campuses, said David Matas, B’nai Brith’s senior legal counsel.
“There’s a direct link between this surge and the widespread resistance of universities to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism,” Matas said. “It’s a matter of common sense that once you exclude whole categories of attacks on Jews as not antisemitic, which universities are doing by rejecting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, that antisemitic incidents will mushroom. This what we’re now seeing on university campuses.”
The Ontario, Quebec and Canadian governments have all adopted the IHRA definition. B’nai Brith is urging universities and other provincial governments to follow suit.
NDP MP Randall Garrison, from Vancouver Island, noted the “steep increase” of incidents in British Columbia. In his riding, hateful graffiti was scrawled on Victoria’s Chabad Centre, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“As a gay man I have to note the parallel increase in hatred and violence directed at my own community. But I also want to note a significant difference between anti-gay and antisemitic hatred in Canada and that is the growing indifference to antisemitism in the mainstream of Canadian political and community life,” he said at the press conference.
“In particular, those who profess to be pro-Palestinian now feel free to use their opposition to Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself as a way to attempt to limit the participation of Jewish Canadians in political and community life.” The trend is especially disturbing on university campuses, he said.
The audit is the latest survey that shows a rise in antisemitic attacks. A recent Statistics Canada report of police-reported hate crimes in 2020 showed that Jews were by far the most targeted religious minority in Canada and second only to Blacks as the group reporting the largest number of hate crimes.
Police-reported hate crimes are the tip of the iceberg, Matas said. Incidents tallied by B’nai Brith include those that meet the threshold of the Criminal Code, as well as those that wouldn’t. All incidents must be verified, the organization said.
Although 2021 saw a rise in hate crimes, B’nai Brith also pointed to several positive developments, including a national summit on antisemitism in July and the decision by the federal government to make the position of Special Envoy on Combatting Antisemitism, currently held by Irwin Cotler, a permanent one. The 2022 federal budget included a five-year funding plan for the office.
The budget also indicated that legislation that would make Holocaust denial a crime would be introduced.
Matas said those steps, however, were not enough to combat the rise of antisemitism.
“What needs to be done is wider adoption and implementation of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. There needs to be effective legislation about online hate, which we’ve heard about, but has been kicking around for a long time and needs to be done,” he said. “The figures are alarming… What happened last May is a warning.”
B’nai Brith press conference from April 25, 2022, featuring MPs Anthony Housefather, Melissa Lantsman and Randall Garrison: