Fredericton police call in the Major Crimes Unit two weeks after an Israeli teen was the victim of an antisemitic beating near her high school

Fredericton attack on Israeli teen
Video taken by a student bystander shows Israeli teenager Shaked Tsurkan, 14, being beaten near her Fredericton N.B. high school on April 30 while the assailant, wearing a pink hoodie, punches her about the head and face. (Submitted photo)

The cuts and bruises on Shaked Tsurkan’s face have mostly faded since the Fredericton student was attacked near her school on April 30. But you can still make out the dark red marks under her eyes.

Two weeks ago, Shaked, 14, and a male friend were walking to a convenience store near their Leo Hayes High School during the lunch hour, when she was jumped from behind by another student. She was beaten and punched in the face and head, and left on the pavement at the Willie O’Ree Sports Complex.

The attack was captured on video by a group of teens. It lasted just about one minute. And no one intervened to stop it.

The explosion of violence near the school was the culmination of months of escalating tension in the classroom and hallways of the New Brunswick high school after Oct. 7, where the Israeli teen is one of a few Jewish students.

She agrees that she has been targeted because she is Israeli.

Shaked moved to Fredericton from Israel in November 2022—her parents Eli and Michal in search of better prospects for their family of five. Their oldest daughter of three, Shaked wears a Star of David necklace, while her parents fly an Israeli flag from their balcony in the New Brunswick city they now call home.

“My husband and I came because we wanted a better life for our children. A better education. To learn English. To see the world. And to live without safe rooms, without fear,” Michal Tsurkan told The CJN. “[It was] a big dream.”

While her husband Eli worked previously as a municipal police officer with the Rosh Pina department in Israel, he is currently employed as a long-distance truck driver. Michal was in public relations in Israel, and is now enrolled in English-language classes. Their three children attend local public schools. Shaked enrolled in Grade 9 last fall.

A few weeks later, on Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas terrorists attacked Israel’s southern border with Gaza and slaughtered 1,200 residents. They took a further 240 Israelis and foreigners hostage back into the tunnels of Gaza. Israel’s government responded by declaring war on Hamas, while also fighting rocket attacks from Iran-backed Hezbollah forces in the north. Thousands of Palestinians fighters and civilians have been killed in the assault.

For Shaked, the aftermath of Oct. 7 was a scary time, even though she had the support of her best friend, a Syrian Muslim classmate who acted as a sort of bodyguard.

“We were kind of scared because I had already moved to high school, and there was a bigger community of Muslim people, that I know they’re pro-Palestinians, and they support them, and they tried to talk to school [staff] and ask them what can they do because… it’s a big deal,” Shaked said.

“It’s not like middle school where they are still young there. In high school, they are like Grade 12 and they support Palestine, and I’m just in Grade 9, and I’m new in this school, and I’m the only one (Israeli), so I was really careful at first.”

According to the Israeli teen, the unwanted attention started during a show-and-tell session in one of her English as a Second Language classes last fall. When she was asked to present her country’s national flag and heritage to the other international students, her handmade blue-and-white Israeli flag was later ripped down. She replaced it, but that second one was also destroyed.

After the principal intervened, Shaked says one student was suspended. Her third flag has not suffered any vandalism.

Over the next few months, Shaked says she experienced increasingly tense encounters with one particular older student, a Muslim who wears a hijab. After weeks of receiving snide looks and being pointed at in the hallways, Shaked decided to approach this girl to find out what the problem seemed to be.

What she was told, floored her. It was a story that brought a far-off conflict directly into this corner of Atlantic Canada.

“She was really mad at me, because she heard me saying, and I have never said it, but she said she heard, someone told her that I said, one day, somewhere in the washroom, that I hope one day children in Gaza will die. It was after Oct. 7,” Shaked explained.

“I was, like, I’ve never said it, and I don’t know where she got this information from, and who told her? But she was really mad at me. And she was pretty aggressive at first, but then, my best friend came, and calmed her down a little bit. And we were talking. It was fine.”

The girls agreed not to engage further, according to Shaked, who also revealed that she issued an apology for the words she still maintains she didn’t ever say. She did it just so the other girl would feel better and not cause trouble.

“I don’t like to fight with people.”

But by April 30, the dispute flared up again when the two students met in a hallway. Shaked remembers the other teen becoming very aggressive, and the principal ordered them both to separate. Shaked said that on impulse, she decided to leave the building, since it was lunchtime.

She went out to grab a drink at the nearby convenience store, which is about a 15-minute walk down a trail behind the school.

Shaked’s boyfriend was with her, she says, when she encountered the same girl and some other students outdoors. The girl made threats, according to Shaked.

“She said, ‘I’ll find you in the washroom. Turn around when I’m talking to you. I will do this and this to you, I will kill you.’ This kind of stuff.”

According to Shaked, the attacker “took it as a revenge for what’s going on [in Gaza], because there’s no other exploration. She’s really pro-Palestinian, and I never said anything about what’s going on. I never said anything bad about it. I never tried to.”

In the first altercation, Shaked’s arms were grabbed, and the Israeli teen pushed back to get free, resulting in the assailant falling to the ground. The other girl’s hijab had been tugged and came loose.

Shaked said she honestly thought this would be the end of things, and that she would be left alone. Instead, she estimates about two minutes later, a car pulled up, driven by an adult, carrying the same girl and several teen boys as passengers. She claims the car was aimed right for them, and tried to hit her.

What happened next was captured clearly on a smartphone video made by one of the teenaged bystanders who filmed the attack.

According to Shaked, the same girl is seen now in the video wearing a pink hoodie which obscures her face and covers the hijab. She launches herself at Shaked from behind, throws her to the pavement of the parking lot and punches her in the face and head repeatedly.

An older unidentified man, who drove the car, walks towards the fight and is heard blaming Shaked for the violence. It is not clear if he is a teacher at the school, or somehow related to the students who drove up in his car.

Eventually, police were called. Shaked’s parents rushed over to the scene.

“The blows that she suffered, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It was like boxing blows,” said her mother Michal. “I took her to the clinic a few days later because her eyes were swollen. The bruises around her eyes were all different colours.”

Shaked had two black eyes, multiple cuts and bruises, and a possible concussion.

Shaked Tsurkan, 14, suffered black eyes, lacerations, bruises and a possible concussion after being jumped and beaten by a student at her Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton, N.B. on April 30, 2024. (Tsurkan family photo)

Eli Tsurkan remains frustrated that Fredericton law enforcement officials didn’t appear to realize this was no ordinary schoolyard spat, but rather a much more serious hate crime that needs to be investigated in that way.

“I tried to explain that this, it’s not a simple fight. There’s some problem about racism and in general, it’s an antisemitic attack,” he said.

Not only was he surprised that no one took photos of his daughter’s injuries on the scene, but also upset that she was not offered medical attention. As an experienced investigator himself, Tsurkan said his police training kicked in, he whipped out his phone and began collecting evidence including photographing licence plates and retrieving some of the earrings which his daughter wears that had been ripped out and were laying on the pavement.

Tsurkan doesn’t want to jeopardize the ongoing police investigation, which he feels has taken too long already. But he cautions that the beating which happened to his daughter has international overtones that many well-meaning Canadians may not be familiar with, because they haven’t lived in the Middle East.

“They’re not familiar with the sirens, bombings, shootings. They are living their life, like all people should live: peacefully and helping each other. Doing barbecues, going hiking, riding, fishing, and doing sports. I’m trying to be as objective as I can, but in this case, the school’s complete silence and the police, it has been a very long time since it happened,” Eli Tsurkan said.

Shaked says the student who attacked her was suspended for five days, before being permitted to return to school. The CJN was unable to confirm this, as the school board told us they cannot release details in order to protect the privacy of its students.

However, the local Anglophone School District-West board did confirm they were aware of “an act of violence that occurred among a small number of students from Leo Hayes High School,” according to Paul MacIntosh, a spokesperson, in an email to The CJN on May 14.

MacIntosh added that the school staff “took the incident very seriously,” including calling the local police, and also put in place “proactive measures in the support of our international students,” but wouldn’t elaborate on what these measures were.

After the attack, the Israeli teen spent a few days at home recovering, and then returned to school where she received some guidelines from staff concerned for her safety: use the teacher’s washroom exclusively, don’t walk alone, and stay inside the school building the entire day.

When asked why she would consider continuing her studies at Leo Hayes for the remainder of the academic year, in light of the attack on her, Shaked explained that she loves the school, despite what happened, and that she still has a lot of friends there.

But she and her parents aren’t willing to just put the incident behind them, not while the same teen walks the hallways and Shaked says has continued pointing and staring at her.

“I don’t want anything like this to happen again, because it’s just terrible,” Shaked said. “I want the school to understand that it’s not okay, because they are still saying it was my fault that I went outside, and I should have not gone outside… so they are blaming me about what happened at the school.

“It’s not my fault what’s happening right now in Gaza.”

“We are here in Canada. It doesn’t matter what’s going on there. Like we’re here. We are teenagers. We should, like, just have fun. It’s not our fault what’s going on [in the Middle East].

As newcomers to Fredericton, the Israeli family didn’t know who to turn to at first, but received support from the small local Jewish community.

Ayten Kranat, with Sgoolai Israel Synagogue, says the community believes this incident is clearly a hate crime, despite neither the school or police acknowledging it as such.

“This experience has been particularly disheartening for [the family] as newcomers to the country,” she said. “The victim’s family who moved to Canada just a year and a half ago, is actively seeking answers from both the police and the school, but so far no progress has been made.”

The family’s story has now reached the ears of New Brunswick’s premier, whose office told The CJN they want to contact the Tsurkans.

Meanwhile, Bill Hogan, New Brunswick’s Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, issued a short statement to The CJN on May 15.

“Every student deserves to enjoy a safe learning environment,” he wrote, but deferred to local authorities for comments about any investigation.

Dominic Cardy, the former New Brunswick education minister who now sits as an Independent MLA representing a Fredericton riding, said he personally learned of the incident 10 days ago while participating in a Jewish community event for Yom ha-Shoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. It was there when he met the teen herself and was shocked at her injuries.

Cardy said he immediately informed three provincial cabinet members about the incident, including via email and through personal conversations with the ministers of public safety, justice, and education. 

Cardy is outraged that the Israeli teen is being told to follow restrictive safety guidelines inside her school. He urges the school and police to deal swiftly with the assault using existing legal remedies including the hate crime provisions in the Criminal Code.

“Limiting her activities to accommodate antisemites is not acceptable,” Cardy said in an interview. “That she should hide herself away is not acceptable. At some point we have to return back to the idea that assaulting people is illegal.”

Cardy was critical of the initial police response, despite the teen meeting personally with the Fredericton chief of police at the same Holocaust memorial event.

“Police didn’t take statements, not even from the young man who took the video. I’m concerned they will do the same lack of action with the synagogue investigation,” Cardy said, referring to the Jan. 27 vandalism of windows at the Sgoolai Israel Synagogue building ahead a different Holocaust memorial day.

Fredericton police announced on April 11 it had closed the investigation into the earlier synagogue vandalism, as they had no suspects.

Police spokesperson Sonya Gilks confirmed the force is conducting an investigation into the school assault. Given that it is an active investigation, they are not able to release any details. A news release posted May 15 on the police website said the Major Crimes Unit is now handling the case.

“We appreciate the public’s understanding and patience as we diligently work on this case,” the news release said.

While the teen met with the Fredericton police chief informally when the family attended that recent community event for Yom ha-Shoah, the family said they were scheduled to be formally interviewed by investigators for the first time on May 14, a full two weeks since the incident happened.

The family’s case has now come to the attention of several Canadian Jewish organizations, including B’nai Brith Canada, Deborah Lyons, the Canadian Special Envoy on Combatting Antisemitism, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, and CIJA (Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs), which is offering legal advice to the Tsurkans on next steps with police and the school.

“The hate speech against Jews that has been rampant since October 7 is too easily now turning to violent action, and we need to see public institutions, political leaders, government, and society broadly do more to protect the safety of Jewish Canadians in the face of this sharp rise in antisemitism on our streets and in our communities,” said Richard Marceau, CIJA’s vice-president for external affairs.

Shaked Tsurkan’s family are adamant they won’t let this matter drop, even if that’s the impression they were getting from the school board and school staff.

“They’re making it as if it has nothing to do with antisemitism… as if it was just run of the mill high school disputes. But Shaked is not political…yet, she is being made out to be the representative of Israel here,” said Michal, her mother.

“Even if Shaked had made a comment, there’s no excuse for what happened to her. The school doesn’t want problems, they want everything to be kept quiet. Maybe they’re afraid of the larger Arab population who could cause problems. They don’t want us to talk about it. They want us to drop it. But we won’t stay quiet. We can’t. We won’t accept it.”

For his part, Shaked’s father has dealt with his own share of schoolyard brawls while serving with the police in Israel.

“I’m looking for a solution. I’m not looking for punishment,” he told The CJN while driving his rig between Detroit and Chicago. “I want a practical solution that my girl and other students can study in a safe environment, in a really secure environment.

“This is not a simple fight. It’s about racism and in general, it’s an antisemitic attack.”