Reported number of hate crimes has soared in Toronto this fall, with nearly half of all incidents targeting Jews—according to police chief Myron Demkiw

Toronto police chief Myron Demkiw.

Hate crimes have increased dramatically in Toronto, with nearly half of all crimes targeting the Jewish community, the city’s police chief Myron Demkiw told the Police Services Board on Nov. 23.

Demkiw noted that of the city’s 78 reported hate crimes between Oct. 7 and Nov. 20, 49 percent (or 38 of the 78 total) were antisemitic hate crimes, an increase from 13 antisemitic hate crimes reported in the same period in 2022, and nine in the same period in 2021.

According to Toronto Police Services (TPS), its Hate Crime Unit has been responsible for 25 arrests and 64 charges related to reported hate incidents since Oct. 7.

There were 323 reported hate crimes in Toronto between Jan. 1 and Nov. 20, 2023, up from 224 in the same period in 2022. The 2023 figures include 129 antisemitic hate crimes and 34 anti-Muslim/anti-Arab crimes.

TPS also launched a new online tool for reporting for hate-motivated graffiti on Nov. 8. The TPS has received 90 reports to date since then.

Since Oct. 7, the service reports, there have been 217 antisemitic graffiti incidents, up from 19 reported in the same period last year.

According to Demkiw in an update to the police board, the impacts of events in the Middle East are ongoing, and in some cases are linked to “staggering rates” of increase in numbers of reported hate crimes.

“Our officers are attending almost daily demonstrations and gatherings, some with upwards of 25,000 [people]. They are by their very nature dynamic situations that can present a risk to public safety and be incredibly disruptive.”

“Unfortunately, we’re also seeing a significant spike in the number of hate crimes being reported in Toronto, which can traumatize not just victims, but all members of the targeted community, and beyond.”

Among the most recent arrests were 11 people charged in the Indigo bookstore vandalism incident on Nov. 10. The store windows were splashed with red paint and pictures of bookstore founder Heather Reisman. The hate crimes unit is investigating the incident.

Ten people have been charged with mischief over $5,000 and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, with one person charged only for mischief over $5,000. Court appearances for the individuals charged are scheduled for January.

Demkiw said the Hate Crimes Unit has been increased by reallocating officers from some other specialized departments such as investigations.

According to a media release Nov. 23, the TPS Hate Crimes Unit now counts 21 investigators, eight special constables, along with a researcher and analyst; the unit previously consisted of six investigators.

Demkiw pointed out that the additional resources for the Hate Crimes Unit helped bring about the further 10 arrests in the Indigo incident on Nov. 22 after the initial charges and arrest of one person on Nov. 14.

“People are being held accountable, we are pursuing evidence, we are doing warrants,” said Demkiw.

“We at the Toronto, Police Service will not allow the people of our city to be intimidated. The service in our Hate Crime Unit will aggressively uncover and pursue any suspected incidents of hate-motivated behaviour,” Demkiw told the police services board meeting. “Hate will have no space here.”

Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, GTA director for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and Jonathan Levy, principal of TanenbaumCHAT, a Jewish high school that recently received a bomb threat, spoke at the board meeting.

“Look, the last six weeks have been really something for the Jewish community here in Toronto,” said Kirzner-Roberts. “We have been targeted by a campaign of intimidation. That is something that I never thought I would see in our city in my lifetime.”

“I have Jewish families calling me every day, asking me ‘should I take the mezuzah off my door? Should I stop telling people I’m Jewish?’ This is the reality that we are facing. That’s the human side of some of the dark statistics that the chief shared.

“Our community could not possibly be more grateful for the response from police over the last six weeks,” Kirzner-Roberts added, mentioning that the mobile command posts along the Bathurst corridor in Jewish neighbourhoods have “gone so far in reassuring the community that we’re not sitting ducks to potential hate criminals.”

In his deputation, Levy said students and the community are “on edge.”

“[They’re] nervous, seeing and hearing threats, seeing what is being said online. And these students are coming into our school every day,” said Levy.

“We have been assured, and we rely on police presence simply to provide comfort to those coming into the school,” said Levy.

“We feel that our community is a target. We feel that our school is a target. And, it is the calming presence of the many officers who have come by the school, including the police chief who has visited us on two occasions, that provides a sense of calmness and a sense of relief for our community.”

Demkiw reiterated the importance of reporting incidents to police. In one exchange with a reporter at a press briefing after the board meeting, the chief also acknowledged that even these high numbers may be under-reported.

“I know from personal contact in the community around the hesitation reported, and that’s a number of different communities. It’s something that we’re very attuned to,” he said.

“These numbers give us a snapshot in time today. Given the context of what’s available to us, but we know there’s much more for us to learn and much, much more for us to investigate.”

Noah Shack, vice-president for countering antisemitism and hate for UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, acknowledged the challenges posed by people who are reluctant to report suspected hate-motivated incidents and who believe it won’t make a difference.

“The reality is it does make a difference. The police have exponentially expanded their capacity to address hate crime in the city. But they can’t address it if we don’t report it.”

He said the disproportionate number of antisemitic hate crimes in the TPS update was particularly concerning.

“The fact that the Jewish community comprises less than four percent of the population of the city of Toronto, and yet is the target of almost 50 percent of hate crime that occurs in the city is something that should disturb anybody who cares about the character of our city and the values that we all hope it embodies.”