Pittsburgh shooting sparks debate over guns in Canadian shuls

If, in the aftermath of the deadly Pittsburgh shooting, you are considering bringing your gun to synagogue for added protection – even if you have a license for it – the experts have some advice for you: don’t.

Ryan Hartman, director of the National Community Security Program at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), is blunt: it would be illegal, regardless of whether you have a license, to bring a loaded firearm to synagogue – for any reason.

“This is strongly not advised and would create a security incident,” Hartman told The CJN.

The issue arose in the wake of the Pittsburgh tragedy, when Conservative MP Peter Kent, in an earlier CJN interview on federal funding to Jewish communal buildings for security measures, said that the matter of bringing guns to synagogues was raised by “at least one” individual who communicated with his office.

The person, Kent said, related that “some members in some congregations who are legally registered gun owners may … decide to bring those weapons to synagogue, just on the admittedly remote possibility … that something would need to be defended, that they’re not in a position, at the moment, to adequately defend.”

Kent said that he finds the notion “very concerning,” adding he’s “sure” worshippers wouldn’t do it “without talking to the congregation.”


A few days earlier, Toronto lawyer Arnold Recht, a member of Chabad Flamingo, wrote to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, expressing concern that members of the Thornhill, Ont., synagogue do not feel safe. Recht shared the letter with The CJN.

In it, he said that shul members “have been cognizant of a threat for a substantial period of time.” More than two years ago, the synagogue hired an armed off-duty York Regional Police officer, “gun and all,” to guard the front door.

“However, after review of our security measures, we have come to the conclusion that present measures could not foil the attempts of a well-armed assailant intent on killing. If this would occur, the number of fatalities at our well-attended services would be enormous,” Recht wrote.

Congregation members “feel unsafe,” and “accordingly, there are quite a few congregants who have gun licenses and lawful weapons who want to bring those weapons to the synagogue,” he wrote, though he admitted that doing so would be “contravening the law.”

He asked for suggestions on how synagogue members “can legally protect ourselves.”

In a follow-up email to The CJN, Recht said he had not heard back from Goodale’s office and that there’s currently “no talk by shul members about bringing weapons into the synagogue. We have placed into effect other measures.”

There are quite a few congregants who have gun licenses and lawful weapons who want to bring those weapons to the synagogue.
– Arnold Recht

Jeffrey Brown, a community security volunteer in Thornhill, agreed that carrying a loaded weapon is illegal in Canada.

“There is absolutely no room for routine concealed carry under Canada’s federal firearm laws. No room whatsoever,” Brown said emphatically.

The Toronto Board of Rabbis (TBR) does not have a position on the issue, said its executive director, Rabbi Michal Shekel. She said that every synagogue determines its own security needs.

“I have not heard anything among our membership regarding legally registered guns in synagogues,” she told The CJN. “I know some of my U.S. colleagues have discussed this.”

The TBR will meet in early December and Rabbi Shekel said she assumes security will be discussed, “along the lines of sharing information (and) best practices.”

The Jewish Defence League (JDL) was scheduled to hold an “emergency meeting” at its Toronto headquarters on Nov. 12, to discuss firearms training.

JDL leader Meir Weinstein said training in firearms is intended “to change the mindset and thinking” of some Jews when it comes to security, in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh shooting.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations have asked law-enforcement agencies to monitor the JDL’s plans.

“The Jewish Defence League is not the kind of group you want arming itself,” said Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.