Two men arrested for possible hate crime in Montreal after tense weekend of protests

A sign at a pro-Palestinian protest in Montreal, May 16, 2021. (Credit: Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs)

Two men aged 19 and 20 were arrested in Côte St. Luc for allegedly uttering threats and verbally harassing Jews on May 17. Police are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.

Police responded quickly to complaints from citizens that young men driving by the intersection of Kildare Road and Westminster Avenue around 6:30 p.m. hurled anti-Semitic insults and threatened bodily harm.

Station 9 had already increased patrols in the majority-Jewish suburb in the wake of tensions related to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, and was able to apprehend the men right away.

The incident occurred a day after pro-Israel demonstrators were chased and had rocks thrown at them by Palestinian supporters yelling anti-Semitic slurs after their competing downtown protests were dispersed by police.

The pro-Israel demonstration, publicized on social media and attended mostly by young people, started at 1 p.m. at Dorchester Square. Several hundred participants draped in Israeli flags danced and sang until a small pro-Palestinian group assembled in Place du Canada on the opposite side of René Lévesque Boulevard.

After the police cordon separating the two sides was breached and clashes broke out, officers declared the demonstrations illegal. As the pro-Israel faction left, their opponents went after them, shouting, grabbing their flags and sending rocks and other projectiles toward them.

The riot squad was called in and tear gas employed to keep the aggressors at bay.

More Palestinian supporters poured into downtown, and order was not completely restored on downtown streets until about 9 p.m.

Fifteen arrests were made, including for armed assault, and 76 tickets issued. One citizen and three police officers sustained mild injuries.

One of the organizers of the pro-Israel event, law student Ysabella Hazan, tweeted: “I was tear-gassed, chased, had rocks thrown at me for being a Jew in Montreal. Jews were hunted down. I’m furious.”

In a joint statement, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Federation CJA condemned “the verbal and physical attacks on peaceful pro-Israel demonstrators.”

“Shocking video and eyewitness accounts confirm that a group of anti-Israel protesters attacked pro-Israel demonstrators with rocks. Witnesses, including a Journal de Montréal journalist, also reported that an anti-Israel protester had earlier attempted to pepper-spray pro-Israel demonstrators,” the organizations said.

They note that this violence occurred a day after a large pro-Palestinian demonstration on May 15, which Palestinians refer to as Nakba, or the catastrophe, when the State of Israel was founded. An estimated 3,000 people marched or drove in convoys through downtown streets, converging in front of Westmount Square, the office tower that houses the Israeli consulate.

The demonstration was noisy, and included the illegal setting off of firecrackers, but peaceful overall, by most accounts. Four arrests were made, including that of the individual who broke a window of the building. Police used pepper spray to remove straggling protesters.

However, CIJA and the federation are disturbed by what they view as the anti-Semitism displayed on some signs and incitement of hatred, as well as the vandalism of private property.

The organizations posted a photo of a woman holding a placard reading, “Well done Israel, Hitler would be proud,” as an example.

They welcomed remarks by Benoit Charette, the Quebec minister responsible for the fight against racism. He tweeted following the May 16 chaos: “Revolting to see such scenes occur in Quebec. When anti-Semitism takes to the streets and manifests itself in a violent way, we cannot speak of peaceful counter-demonstration. All forms of racism are condemnable and anti-Semitism is one of them.”

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante also expressed her regret on social media: “Montreal has a well-earned reputation as a city with different communities that live together in peace and security. Demonstrating is a right, but intolerance, violence and anti-Semitism do not have their place here. Montreal is a city of peace.”

A third, small demonstration took place on May 17. Members of Independent Jewish Voices, Academics for Palestine Concordia, and other groups gathered on the steps of Westmount Square to denounce Israel’s military actions.

Over the past few days, Federation CJA said it has collected “ample social media anti-Semitic incitement” that it has brought to the attention of the Montreal police department’s hate crimes unit. It has asked that police ensure the security of Jewish neighbourhoods.

In addition, the federation has recruited volunteers to be “the eyes and ears of our community” and is urging anyone who sees any incident of harassment to report it to police immediately, as well as share that information with the federation’s security officials.

“This is a time for caution, calm, and careful action,” federation president Gail Adelson-Marcovitz and chief executive officer Yair Szlak said in a message to the community. “While we have no reason to believe that our communal institutions are under any threat of imminent danger, over the next 10 days we will be increasing our volunteer presence throughout the Jewish community in and around institutions, as well as providing additional paid security for our schools.”

Immediately after Shavuot ended the evening of May 18, Côte St. Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein sent a robocall to residents addressing their concerns over “recent incidents targeting the Jewish community.”

“I have been in contact with our local police commander and am reassured by the actions being taken. The police and our own public security team have increased resources and are making their presence felt around all community locations in our city,” he said.

Brownstein urged residents to “please, go about our day as normal.”