Police are investigating whether the removal of seven mezuzot from the doorposts of Jewish residents of a condominium building in north Toronto was a hate bias crime.
At the same time, sticky notes were left at the residences, some with swastikas and others with the slur, “No Jews”and “Your are f—–d.” As of the afternoon of Feb. 21, police had no suspects and no complaints beyond the original seven, said Const. Allyson Douglas-Cook, a spokesperson for Toronto Police Service.
According to one published report, residents believe the perpetrator may be someone who lives in the building at 233 Beecroft Rd. north of Sheppard Avenue, although there are no witnesses to the events and no video surveillance to support that assertion.
Helen Chaiton had mezuzot ripped off her doorpost twice in one week. The first time, the mezuzah was found in pieces by housekeeping staff and returned to her. After her rabbi affixed a second mezuzah to her door frame, it too was removed and in its place was a Post-It note with a swastika and the phrase, “You are f—-d,” she said.
“Naturally, it was very disturbing. However, I’m very familiar with anti-Semitism, as my parents and in-laws were in the Holocaust,” Chaiton said.
Although police have no leads, Chaiton believes the perpetrator was young and neither sophisticated nor intelligent.
“I was a teacher for a number of years and I worked with very disturbed children. I’m very familiar with their handwriting,” she said.
Rabbi Moshe Steiner of Uptown Chabad-Lubavitch said when he learned of the incident, he visited the building and introduced himself to some of the residents. The incidents had been going on for a few days, he said.
“People were very upset, very distressed,” he told The CJN. Some were not eager to take up his offer of replacing the missing mezuzot, but he has affixed two and is offering to do the same for any other resident who requests it.
It’s important to send the message that Jews will not be intimidated into “receding into the shadows,” he said.
“We don’t want that to be the new normal,” Rabbi Steiner said. “Toronto is a very strong Jewish community, one of the best places to be Jewish, and we’re not going to let an incident like this change our way of life. We must be bold and proud.
“The net result of this very terrible incident should not be for a weaker or more timid presence, but, on the contrary, a stronger, prouder one,” he said.
The incidents were condemned by Toronto Mayor John Tory, who said, “Anti-Semitism has no place in Toronto. Our Jewish residents should not have to face hatred on their doorsteps.
“These acts, and the people who carry them out, do not represent Toronto or Torontonians,” the mayor added.
Tory repeated his condemnation of the attack at a hastily arranged press conference on Feb. 22 at Toronto Police Service’s 32 Division. “This is inconsistent with who we are,” he told reporters. Toronto is about people living together peacefully and it is “our collective responsibility to say no to this kind of behaviour.”
Tory repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in his address.
Speaking at the same press conference, Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said “It is meaningful to the Jewish community to know we don’t stand alone.”
He said targeting the Jewish community appears to be “a new normal,” and that Statistics Canada reports show that Jews are the most targeted religious group. He suggested much of it is a spillover from university campuses where students have been a victimized group for years. He pointed to a recent incident in Montreal in which a member of the Students’ Society of McGill University tweeted, “Punch a Zionist,” and to an incident at Ryerson University where students walked out of a student union meeting before a motion to commemorate the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, Sgt. Lawrence Sager said “police continue to pour resources into this investigation and we’re confident that whoever committed this crime will be brought to justice.”
Police are taking the incident seriously and have stepped up patrols around Jewish institutions, he added.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto addressed the incident in a joint news release.
“We are alarmed to learn of a disturbing incident in an apartment building in North York, where Jewish residents discovered that their doors were vandalized with Nazi symbols, and that their mezuzahs were damaged or removed,” said Adam Minsky, federation president and CEO.
“Like all acts of hatred and intolerance, these deliberate acts of hostility toward the Jewish community are completely unacceptable. There is absolutely no place for anti-Semitism – or any other form of hatred – in Canada,” he said.
“CIJA is monitoring the situation and will be working closely with police to achieve a swift resolution. We have full confidence in our partners at the Toronto Police Services and know they are committed to safeguarding the community,” said Sara Lefton, vice-president of CIJA Toronto. “Jewish Canadians are targeted by hate-motivated crimes more frequently than any other vulnerable group in Canada.”
Anyone with information is asked to call police 416-808-3200, or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477), or go online at www.222tips.com, or text TOR and your message to CRIMES (274637).