Toronto city councillors James Pasternak and Mike Colle visited the vandalized ‘IDF’ food store while urging other levels of government to help deal with ongoing protests

Toronto city councillors James Pasternak and Mike Colle at the IDF store, set on fire in an suspected hate crime, Jan. 8. (Credit: Lila Sarick)

The provincial and federal governments have to do more to help Toronto deal with the hundreds of demonstrations that have occurred since Oct. 7 as well as investigate whether an attack on a Jewish-owned food store was an act of terror, two city politicians say.

Deputy Mayor Mike Colle and city councillor James Pasternak called on the federal justice minister to investigate whether the fire and graffiti at International Delicatessen Food on Steeles Avenue West should be prosecuted as an act of terror. The fire broke out Jan. 3 and Toronto police have said it is being investigated as a possible hate crime and criminal arson.

At a press conference outside the darkened food store, the two city councillors said both the provincial and federal governments must do more to help Toronto combat the current wave of antisemitism and hate.

“This was more than just an act of arson. This was a targeted act of intimidation against this shopkeeper, because he is Jewish,” said Colle.

Toronto Police have been called to keep the peace at nearly 300 demonstrations since Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists murdered 1,200 Israelis and triggered a war in Gaza.

“We’re also asking that we get the federal and provincial governments to step up and support our local police and support the City of Toronto in dealing with this,” Colle said. “It’s Toronto on its own dealing with this horrendously complex situation… I haven’t seen any federal ministers here, I haven’t seen the prime minister interested in this, I haven’t seen Premier (Doug) Ford. Where are they?

“It’s about time the federal and provincial government worked in partnership and not second-guessing what our Toronto Police are doing or not doing,” Colle said.

He declined to put a dollar figure on the amount Toronto needed but said it was “significant.”

Municipalities including Windsor and Ottawa received federal funds when the Freedom Convoy protesters descended on their cities in 2022, Pasternak said.  

“We need all the resources that we can muster from the other two levels of government to make sure that this (arson) is investigated quickly, that we find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. It is my view… that this is someone who will do it again and we have to catch them before they do,” Pasternak said.

Colle said he has written urgent letters to the attorney general of Ontario and the federal minister of justice, asking them to help the city but has not received a reply.

The Ontario Provincial Police has also been asked to help keep highway overpasses free of protesters and rallies, Pasternak said.

“The intention of those rallies is to deliberately distract drivers to their cause and that is a dangerous and potentially catastrophic situation on our overpasses.”

Protesters have held pro-Palestinian rallies on overpasses in the Toronto area for the last five weeks. In one predominantly Jewish neighbourhood, near Avenue Rd. and Wilson Ave., the bridge has been closed intermittently by police, as demonstrators wave Palestinian flags, use loud speakers and set off smoke bombs.

“In all our years we have never seen demonstrations targeting an identifiable ethnic group,” Colle said.

Colle said he spoke to the owner of the IDF store on the day of the fire and said the man was “shell-shocked” and scared to have his name made public. “He’s basically as if he was run over by a truck.”

The store suffered smoke and water damage and it will be months before it can re-open. For now, the owner can’t begin a renovation because the case is still under investigation, Colle said.