Toronto Police decry Bais Chaya Mushka school shooting at their monthly public meeting—but they lack legal authority to clear the encampment at UofT

Bais Chaya Mushka Elementary School in Toronto had a window broken by a shooter, May 25, 2024.

Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw addressed the shooting at the city’s Bais Chaya Mushka school, at the monthly Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) meeting, May 31. Shots were fired at the school early in the morning on May 25. No one was in the building at the time.

Demkiw said that the police’s Hate Crime Unit is working with the Guns and Gangs Unit to “bring the perpetrators to justice,” and acknowledged the effect of the school attack on the city’s Jewish community.

“We understand the fear and isolation this creates for the Jewish community. We also know that gun violence is a concern for residents across our city,” he said.

“I want to acknowledge the unsettling impact this event has had on our city, and share that we have increased our presence and we continue regular engagement with members and leaders from the Jewish and Muslim communities, focusing on cultural centres, synagogues, mosques, schools, and other places of worship across the city.”

At the same meeting, Deputy Police Chief Rob Johnson spoke about the police’s response to the pro-Palestinian encampment on the grounds of the University of Toronto. Johnson said the police had made arrests in connection to five incidents related to the encampment; those include an arrest over an assault charge earlier this week. Johnson did not disclose more details about those arrests at the meeting.

Johnson also said that, at the moment, the Trespass to Property Act does not give the police sufficient legal authority to clear an encampment. He cited the fact that demonstrators were permitted by the school to remain on their property and the decision of the Quebec court to deny McGill University an interim injunction to remove their protesters as contributing to the lack of legal authority.

UofT is seeking a court order to clear the encampment, with a hearing now scheduled for June 19 and 20, the school publicized late Wednesday, May 29, hours after the Toronto Police Services (TPS) news release over the assault charge. The timing all but ensures the encampment will be present during the entire run of the school’s convocation ceremonies, which are scheduled from June 3-21, a scenario UofT had hoped to avoid.

“Therefore, absent a material change of circumstances, the Toronto Police Service will only act in situations involving an emergency to enforce the law and protect public safety, or to act in accordance with a court order,” he said. “We continue to respect the right to lawful assembly and expression, but we will uphold the law while prioritizing the safety of all individuals—students, protesters and officers.”

Johnson also provided some statistics about hate crimes since Oct. 7. Police have attended 1,270 suspected hate crime calls for service since that date, with an average of 159 per month. They have confirmed 300 suspected hate crimes since then, resulting in 94 arrests and 243 hate crime occurrence related charges. The most common charges are mischief, assault and uttering threats. Hate crimes are up 64 percent over the same time period last year.

Antisemitic hate crimes continue to account for more than any other category of reported hate crimes in Toronto, according to the head of Toronto police intelligence.

Superintendent Katherine Stephenson of TPS discussed the ongoing spike in hate occurrences during a presentation at Holy Blossom Temple on May 29, where she addressed about 350 lawyers.

Of the 187 hate crimes so far in 2024, 46 percent are antisemitic, she said.  (In Demkiw’s March 18 update there had been 84 hate crimes in January and February, and 56 percent were antisemitic.)

Stephenson said that in 2023, TPS experienced a 47 percent increase in reported hate crime occurrences compared to 2022, with a jump from 248 to 365 reported hate crime occurrences.

“Antisemitism continues to account for more reported hate crimes than any other category,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson said that the 2023 trend continued in 2024.

“In February of 2024 we saw the highest number of antisemitic occurrences compared to the past three years,” she said.

“In the hours following October 7th attack on Israel by Hamas, it was clear that this event resonated with communities in Toronto unlike any other,” she said. 

“In the following weeks, hate crime calls for service shot up from 68 to 208 in the month of October,” she said, an increase of more than 206 percent compared to September 2023.

Stephenson said that trend continued with 254 calls in November, representing a 535 percent increase over the two-year average.

“While many of these calls were not ultimately classified as hate crimes, they were classified as hate incidents. This does not make much of a difference,” she said.

“It still has importance and impact and it is very impactful and it does guide our response. The overall increase in calls for service does speak to the traumatic effect the conflict was having on our communities and thus accelerated the unprecedented response by the service to address this crisis.”

As Israel’s war with Hamas has continued in Gaza, protests and antisemitic occurrences have also climbed in Toronto. Police have increased patrols in Muslim and Jewish communities since Oct. 7, Stephenson said.

TPS calls this Project Resolute, she said, a project name Demkiw has often referenced in the monthly updates and in news conferences.

Mobile command posts, at least one of which remains in the Bathurst Street corridor, were deployed to provide greater security to Jewish and Muslim communities, Stephenson said. She noted that the intelligence unit she commands gathers information on “where calls are coming from, where crimes are occurring and where does the community need us most.”

“Our analysts develop deployment documents that we release to field commanders every morning so that they can deploy the resources with the greatest impact,” she said. These reports are “both data-driven and intelligence-driven.”

“We have heavily relied on our consultative committees, the Jewish and Muslim liaison officers, and our community partners, to ensure our response is developed with our communities.”

Stephenson said TPS’s response “to the significant increase in hate crimes” included expanding the Hate Crime Unit from a previous six dedicated officers to a unit now comprising 32 members. 

“The hate crime unit also changed its mandate and adopted a centralized model, taking carriage of hate crimes, suspected hate crimes and hate incidents,” she said, which in turn strengthened TPS’ investigative capacity and “broadened our community outreach.”

“The expanded mandate also includes protest-related occurrences and arrests. Not all arrests and occurrences at protests are hate-motivated, however, the potential for hate-motivated occurrences and increases in these highly charged atmospheres, especially when counter-protests are present,” she said.

“Having hate crime specialists on scene to investigate protest-related occurrences ensures the appropriate expert evaluation is conducted in the moment.”

Next month, the service will be releasing an external dashboard to promote transparency, making hate crime data and trends public. There will also be links to resources for victims of hate crimes.

Addressing the lawyers, Stephenson acknowledged that hate crime law in Canada was “exceedingly complex and nuanced” and said TPS trained “expert investigators recognized internationally… work closely with the Ministry of the Attorney General to ensure that thoughtful consideration is given to each and every hate crime occurrence in charge.”

Stephenson is the unit commander of intelligence, which oversees TPS’ security section. That section’s five sub-units include protective services, counterterrorism, violent extremism, international assistance and hate crimes.

“The Hate Crime unit is embedded in our security section of Intelligence Services,” Stephenson said. “This placement was by design: we know that hate crimes can create a precursor to violent extremism. This enables mutually supportive actions in circumstances where these investigations overlap.”

“The investigation of hate crimes is a Toronto police priority,” said Stephenson. “And as the unit commander of Intelligence, it is my priority.”

With files from Ellin Bessner.