Jewish groups call on Quebec’s political parties to address antisemitism and discrimination during the 2022 provincial election campaign

The next government of Quebec should take more concrete action to address the rise in antisemitic incidents in the province, says the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

That’s the overriding concern expressed by CIJA to the political parties vying for power in the Oct. 3 election in a newly published document.

Topping the recommendations is the creation of a subsidy program to defray the cost of security for at-risk community buildings, similar to the Ontario government’s Safer and Vital Community Grant.

The program would help communities under threat of hate or other crimes pay for improved security infrastructure or training of security personnel at their institutions.

Specifically, CIJA recommends the allocation in the first year of a budget of $1.7 million, as in Ontario. Each subsidy could cover up to 75 percent of the costs, to a maximum of $75,000, with the community responsible for the rest.

Another recommendation is strengthening the Montreal police force’s hate crimes unit, both in terms of staffing and training. The unit currently has three detectives and two advisory officers.

CIJA thinks the police could be better trained in identifying and documenting incidents, and a dedicated liaison officer should be assigned to each targeted community. The police should be able to recognize antisemitism in all its forms, as described in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition adopted by the Quebec government last year, CIJA says.

It also wants hate crimes units set up in Quebec City, Laval and Sherbrooke as well as training for certain Crown prosecutors to specialize in the handling of hate crimes cases

More collaboration between the Montreal service and the provincial police, the Sureté du Québec (SQ), in fighting hate crimes is needed, according to CIJA. For example, the SQ making its cyber surveillance resources available would aid local police in monitoring online hate activity.

There has been a “dangerous surge” in antisemitism in Quebec over the past couple of years, since the start of the pandemic and, particularly, the Israel-Hamas conflict of May 2021, much of it CIJA characterized as anti-Israel in nature.

The advocacy group also warns against public money going to non-governmental organizations that condone hate.

“The government should be vigilant against publicly funded NGOs that organize pro-BDS/anti-Israel activities or where expressions of antisemitism are frequent and tolerated. Such actions by some NGOs were observed to be increasing in 2021,” it states.

According to the latest data, the Montreal police recorded 37 hate crimes against Jews in the first six months of 2021. In all of 2019, the number was 34 and, in 2020, 42.

“We have also seen, over the last year, Jewish students in some Quebec schools be the victims of antisemitic incidents of intimidation, vandalism, and hateful comments targeting their Jewish identity and, in some cases, Holocaust denial,” CIJA states.

School boards should be required to publish annual reports on incidents of hate or discrimination. Currently, there is no systematic approach to recording or responding to such incidents, CIJA notes, and staff should be trained in how to deal with them.

It is also asking that a segment on the history of Jews in the province be included in the mandatory Quebec Citizenship and Culture course being introduced this year.

As for Quebec-Israel relations, CIJA urges the province to establish a permanent representative office in Israel, as well as for the premier to head a high-level trade mission there.

“We have provided Quebec’s political parties with concrete proposals to fight hate and are now waiting to see what they propose in response,” said CIJA Quebec vice-president Eta Yudin, who stressed that Quebec is, by and large, “an open and tolerant society.”

CIJA expressed appreciation to the incumbent Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government for adopting the IHRA definition, its contribution to the new Montreal Holocaust Museum, and its support for a new optional teaching module on genocide.

By contrast, B’nai Brith Canada is highly critical of the CAQ for the new French-language law, Bill 96, which it finds discriminatory, and the earlier secularism legislation, Bill 21.

At a Sept. 8 press conference, B’nai Brith officials characterized Quebec as an “anomaly” in having a law that prevents police departments from allowing officers to wear religious symbols, including kippot, while on the job, bucking the trend in Canada and the United States.

“There is no proof that Quebec’s prohibition provides any benefit, or that an officer wearing a religious symbol is less professional or effective,” said CEO   Michael Mostyn.

On the contrary, said League for Human Rights director Marvin Rotrand, a former Montreal city councillor, he has been told by police chiefs elsewhere in the country that the public accepts officers in religious wear.

Such a policy reflects Canada’s diversity, widens the pool of potential candidates, and sends a positive message that aids community policing, Rotrand said.

B’nai Brith has since launched a web page with information on the Quebec election, including the platforms of the five major parties and the two new ones promoting minority rights: Bloc Montreal and the Canadian Party of Quebec.

No commentary is offered, with the exception that B’nai Brith notes that Québec Solidaire, the second opposition party in the last parliament, has endorsed BDS since 2009 and accuses Israel of apartheid. Its MNAs denied the unanimous consent that would have allowed a motion on the IHRA definition to be considered by the National Assembly in June of last year. B’nai Brith and the Knights of Pythias are co-hosting a debate by the candidates in D’Arcy McGee, which has the largest Jewish population, on Sept. 22.