Police in North Bay, Ont. are investigating a possible hate crime that took place among students at a local school.
A video circulating on social media shows Grade 8 students from Ecole Secondaire Catholique Algonquin chanting “f— Jews” and “Heil Hitler,” while giving what appeared to be the straight-arm Nazi salute.
The students wore Algonquin uniforms and were walking across the school’s athletic field when some of them were heard to shout the epithets, reported BayToday on Sept. 21. Witnesses said one participant played the Nazi anthem from an audio device, the online publication added.
The incident took place on Sept. 16, coinciding with Yom Kippur.
After some parents saw the cellphone video, the school’s administration was alerted and North Bay police visited the school the next day.
Police “will completely and thoroughly investigate to determine whether a crime related to hate, genocide, or the incitement of hatred has occurred,” North Bay Police Chief Scott Tod told local media.
“I do offer our condolences to the Jewish community of North Bay for having to see this video and see this happening in our community,” Tod added.
He said this was something he “never thought (he) would have to deal with in our community… We take hate and intolerance very seriously as a police service.”
He called the episode “shameful.”
In a statement to The CJN, the local school board said it was “deeply saddened by the behaviour of a group of teenagers who of course needed consequences for their actions. We also recognize that education is key in changing the fabric of society and that these students require education as well. School and board administration are collaborating to ensure student growth and understanding, as any form of oppression, discrimination or antisemitism is not tolerated in our schools.”
The Conseil Scolaire Catholique Franco-Nord said it takes the matter “very seriously. We are committed to investigating reported incidents promptly and to addressing these situations adequately with all those involved,” said spokesperson Jacqueline Lévesque.
Students were reportedly told by school officials to delete any videos they had of the incident.
“I never found North Bay to be a racist community,” Larry Fuld, treasurer and spokesperson for the city’s sole synagogue, Sons of Jacob, told The CJN.
“I always found it, on the contrary, an exceptionally welcoming and open community.”
He called the event an “extremely unfortunate incident by some misguided young people,” but added, “I think it can become a teaching moment.”
To that end, the synagogue is planning to bring a speaker and have a presentation at the school soon, Fuld said.
The 2011 National Household Survey found 80 Jews in North Bay.
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre noted that Tod had previously participated in the organization’s Compassion to Action program, which takes police officials and educators to Poland and Germany to learn about the Holocaust.
In a letter to the school and the board, FSWC offered some of its programs, including a school-wide workshop that teaches young people about the Holocaust and provides survivor testimony, as well as a specialized program for the offenders that would address the incident and what could be learned from it.
Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said educating students about the Holocaust isn’t enough. He said students receive lessons in the subject in Grade 7.
Balgord said a rumour is that a TikTok video had influenced the students.
“Even if that was the case, you don’t go from zero to emulating a Nazi march because you saw a TikTok video,” Balgord said.
“If education was enough to stop a problem like this, then it wouldn’t have happened. Education won’t be enough.”
In addition to anti-racist education, he said a critical eye needs to be cast on what online spaces promote this kind of behaviour.
If young people are being groomed in these spaces—and Balgord believes they are—“any intervention needs to acknowledge that and incorporate it when you’re having the intervention with the students.
“If we’re going to intervene successfully with these kids, it’s got to be from the standpoint of countering that influence they might be seeing online.”
He said his organization has built a “toolkit” that supplements anti-racist education and gives teachers, students and parents the tools to identify when a child is being groomed in hateful online spaces, and how to intervene.
“It is literally tailor-made for a situation like this, and we’re offering it,” Balgord said.