National Assembly condemns swastika vandalism as hate crime

One of the cars struck by vandals. CBC PHOTO
A car defaced with a swastika in Montreal in 2015, in the parking garage of an apartment building. CBC PHOTO

MONTREAL — Quebec's National Assembly unanimously condemned what police are treating as a hate crime: Nazi graffiti and a death threat left at an apartment building in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce on Feb. 23.

An all-party motion was brought forward in the legislature on Feb. 25 denouncing the crime, which saw the hoods of four vehicles parked in the interior garage of the building on Côte St. Luc Road at the corner of Hampton Avenue each spray painted with red swastikas. 

Envelopes were found under the windshield wipers on some cars, with at least one containing a threatening note and a bullet. The windshield of one car was also smashed and a pickaxe left in front of it.

The motion condemned “the hateful acts perpetrated… against the Jewish population,” and “denounced vigorously and without nuance any manifestation of intolerance based on ethnic origin or religious beliefs.”

In passing the motion, Premier Philippe Couillard made an eloquent speech warning against intolerance in Quebec and for recognition of what the Jewish community has given to the province.

“[T]hese men, these women who live among us are not Jews living in Quebec; they are Québécois of the Jewish faith.”

He said Quebec has “its demons and, among its demons, there is intolerance, racism, xenophobia, and these demons slowly take root in us. They are there, they lie dormant, we hope, and we must take care that they are not awakened, Madam Speaker, and equally take care to note and condemn each manifestation.”

He surveyed the history of Jews in Quebec, including the fact that the third-largest number of Holocaust survivors in the world settled here, and praised their and other Jews’ contributions to Quebec.

“[W]hat a cruel irony to see the Nazi sign painted on the vehicles that were vandalized…” he said.

He concluded in English: “We can only denounce these acts of vandalism which reflect prejudice and intolerance. I wish to reassure the public that we will not tolerate that Quebecers are subject to threats because of their origins or their religious beliefs.

“These cowardly acts remind us of how important it is to continue to combat intolerant gestures that target the Jewish community and all ethnocultural minorities in Quebec.”

Interim official opposition leader Stéphane Bédard, as well as Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault and Québec Solidaire leader Françoise David struck a similar theme in their interventions.

“This is an occasion for us to remember that Quebec is a land of welcome for the Jewish community…We must all be together at the side of this great community, to remind them how much they are cherished, and that they are not alone in facing these hateful and intolerable acts…” said Bédard.

Although it has not been confirmed who the damaged vehicles’ owners are, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) views this crime as motivated by anti-Semitism.

“While the intent of the perpetrator cannot be absolutely determined at this time, given what is happening globally, the fact that swastikas are involved, that there were threatening notes and this is a Jewish area, leads one to understand that this was not just an act of simple vandalism but a crime targeting the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Reuben Poupko, who chairs CIJA’s security committee, after touring the site with police on Feb. 24.

Following the National Assembly motion, CIJA Quebec chair Eric Maldoff commented:

“While the recent terrorist attacks on journalists and Jews in Europe are cause for concern for our community, we must not give in to fear because we know that we do not stand alone against the scourge of anti-Semitism. 

“The Montreal police have made it a top priority to investigate [this] anti-Semitic vandalism in Montreal which they have boldly declared to be a hate crime and are making major efforts to ensure the security of our community.”

He expressed appreciation for the provincial parliamentarians’ firm stance, as well as that of Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre.

The mayor stated earlier: “I was staggered to see that such acts could be committed toward the Jewish community. Montreal is a welcoming city, where all religions must be able to live together harmoniously. Montrealers must denounce any such acts, whatever community is targeted. As for me, I say it loud and strong: not in my city!”

The crime was quickly denounced by the Ottawa-based National Council of Canadian Muslims which labelled it “a craven act” whose perpetrators should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law “in order to send a strong message against hate crimes and intolerance.”

The council urged community leaders to be vigilant and immediately report suspicious behaviour to the authorities.

B’nai Brith Canada legal counsel Steven Slimovitch said, “Our reaction is one of shock, one of disgust and one of fear…When you go out and purchase bullets and take the time to write a death message, this is extremely serious.”

The vandalism was discovered after 10 p.m. on Feb. 23 when the smoke alarm sounded. There was no fire.

Rabbi Poupko said police are not releasing full details but from what he understands the notes “said something to the effect that ‘this bullet is for you.’”

Police had no suspects, and the garage has no surveillance cameras.

Rabbi Poupko said CIJA is satisfied the police are dedicating all the resources necessary to investigate this crime and appreciate that they have been questioning Jewish institutions in the area as to whether they noticed any suspicious activity of late.

A 15-year resident of the apartment, who did not want her full name reported, told the media she had never seen anything like this before in the building.

Other residents said the garage’s security had been an issue.

Police are asking anyone with information to call 514-393-1133.