Jewish organizations say the one-year probation sentence for a Montreal youth who burned Israeli flags doesn’t reflect the ‘magnitude’ of the crime

Israeli flag burning
Screenshot from a video showing a teenager stealing Israeli flags from outside a Montreal area school and later showing the flags burning. Montreal police have arrested a 16-year old youth who is facing charges of mischief, theft and arson, and the Montreal police's Hate Crimes Unit is looking for more suspects. (Instagram)

A Jewish group says the sentence handed down to the teenager who stole and burned Israeli flags outside a Jewish elementary school last month should have reflected the hateful motivation it believes was behind the act.

The boy, reportedly age 16, was put on probation for one year with conditions after pleading guilty to arson causing property damage in Quebec Court’s youth division on May 15.

Although the conditions reflect consideration for the targeted school – Hebrew Foundation School in Dollard des Ormeaux – and a prohibition against posting any reference to the State of Israel on social media, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) thinks the sentence should have more adequately addressed “the magnitude of the crime’s impact” on the Jewish community.

CIJA Quebec vice-president Eta Yudin told The CJN the sentence should have recognized that this was an act of antisemitism, meant to intimidate the Jewish community, and sent a message that would deter similar crimes.

The youth was brought back to court May 18, to determine if recent social media posts violated the terms of his probation. Additional conditions including that he not post on social media have been imposed, while he waits his court appearance, to determine if he violated his probation.

In response to the youth’s return to court, Yudin, said in an email, ” It is worth noting that CIJA raised concerns earlier this week that the conditions of probation did not sufficiently consider either the antisemitism inherent in his actions or the subsequent impact his crime had on Quebec’s Jewish community.

“We are grateful that the SPVM (police) reacted quickly and that he found himself back in court this morning so he could be held accountable for continuing to spread his hateful message. “

On April 26, the youth filmed himself tearing down at least five Israeli flags from a fence around Hebrew Foundation School, hung as part of a Yom ha-Atzmaut celebration, and setting fire to them nearby. The film was posted on social media.

The crime occurred after students had been dismissed from the school.

Police used footage from that post to ask for the public’s help in identifying the perpetrator and he was arrested the next day. Initially, police said they were investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.

CIJA applauded the police for their swift action in apprehending the perpetrator.

During the one-year probation, the convicted youth is prohibited from posting any reference to Israel, Hebrew Foundation School or the charges against him on social media. He must also formally apologize, in writing, to the school and maintain a distance of at least 200 metres from it.

He is to perform up to 17 hours of community service to be determined by a youth worker, and donate $250 to Just Peace Advocates.

On its website, Just Peace Advocates is described as “a Canadian-based independent human rights organization promoting Just Peace/Paix Juste through the rule of law and respect for human rights in Canada and around the world for the Palestinian people and those that stand in solidarity for the human rights of the Palestinian people. Just Peace Advocates also has a specific focus on the realization of the self-determination of the people of Kashmir.”

Yudin said CIJA would have liked the conditions to include requiring the youth to attend sensitivity training about antisemitism and the harm such acts as his inflict. CIJA would have been eager to work with the judicial system to develop such an educational program.

CIJA would also have wished that the youth be forbidden to make any reference to Jews on social media.

The sentence, which was agreed upon by the prosecution and defense, points to the need for specific guidelines for Crown prosecutors specially trained in determining when a crime is hate motivated, Yudin said.

At present, busy prosecutors simply do not have the resources to decode the underlying hateful nature of some crimes, she said.

“The youth’s video documenting the theft and burning of the Israeli flags while Montrealers celebrated Israel’s 75th anniversary was perceived by many as an attempt to intimidate the Jewish community,” said CIJA in a statement.

The posted video of the incident, which played over an Arabic song, included the caption, “I am not afraid of any Yahudis (Jews) and do not care about any promises.”

Federation CJA’s Community Security Network (CSN) and local law enforcement increased security around Jewish institutions across Montreal in the days following the incident in response to concern within the community.

“Ripping down the Israeli flag from a place where children gather and subsequently burning it sends an unmistakably threatening message to Montreal’s Jewish community. When anti-Zionism is used as a guise to target and intimidate Jews in Canada that is antisemitism,” read a CIJA statement.

“A connection to Israel is an integral part of Canadian Jewish identity and those who import the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, using it to single out and attack Canadian Jews, are engaging in antisemitism. The judicial system must recognize this nuance,” the statement continued.

Federation president and CEO Yair Szlak added, “Today’s sentence should have sent a loud and clear message that acts of antisemitism are motivated by hate and the courts will respond accordingly.”

Patricia Johnson, a spokesperson for Quebec’s Office for Criminal and Penal Prosecution, told the media that youth sentencing is aimed at rehabilitation.

“With regard to specific sentencing of adolescents, we would like to point out that the principle of general deterrence does not exist; only the principle of specific deterrence applies,” meaning dissuading the convict youth from re-offending.

This is the second time this year that a minor held in connection with an apparently anti-Israel incident was treated too leniently by the judicial system, in the opinion of the Jewish community.

In January, the boy charged in connection with the assault on a man carrying an Israeli flag following a Yom ha-Atzmaut celebration last May was acquitted on a technicality related to establishing his identity.

The accused was 15 at the time.

Another teenager charged with assaulting two Hasidic men in separate incidents in January in the Outremont borough is awaiting sentencing. He turned himself in to police last month after they released surveillance camera footage of one of the incidents in seeking the public’s help in identifying him.

This story has been amended to include new information about the young offender returning to court.