Toronto’s police chief says antisemitism accounted for 56% of recent hate crimes—and calls continued to rise

Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw speaks to reporters at a media conference following an update on the number of hate crimes, including the rise since Oct. 7, to the police services board, on March 18, 2024. (Credit: Jonathan Rothman)

The number of calls about hate crimes in Toronto continues to soar, with a ‘significant increase’ seen in February, according to the latest update from Toronto Police Services (TPS) Chief Myron Demkiw.

Demkiw updated the city’s reported hate crime statistics at a police services board meeting March 18 and later at a press conference.

TPS responded to an average of 157 hate crime calls per month between October 2023 and February 2024.

“While we saw reduction in calls for service for hate crimes in December and January, we’ve seen a significant increase in February with 67 percent rising calls.”

There have been 304 hate crime calls for service this year, TPS says, an increase from 225 calls from the same period last year.

Since Oct. 7, officers have attended 989 calls for service related to hate crimes.  

“Antisemitism accounts for more hate crimes than any other bias category this year and in years prior,” TPS said in a news release.

According to the TPS, over half of hate crimes are antisemitic, with 47 of the total 84 confirmed hate crimes so far in 2024. That’s an 83 percent increase in the number of hate crimes from the same period in 2023.

Demkiw told the board that February 2024 saw the highest number of antisemitic incidents per month in the last three years. The statistics given are totals including both January and February.

Since Oct. 1, 2023, there have been 203 confirmed hate crimes, a 93 percent increase from the same time period last year.

Demkiw described what he called the “significant” impact throughout the city following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel and subsequent war in Gaza.

“The impact of that geopolitical unrest abroad continues to affect people worldwide, including in Canada, right here in Toronto,” he said.

“We are laser-focused on the task at hand: keeping the city safe.”

Demkiw acknowledged that policing public demonstrations “in a free and democratic society” is a complex task, and spoke about TPS’ handling of these ongoing dynamic situations.

“We’re now seeing a change of behaviour,” he said.  “And the tactics at demonstrations are causing us to reevaluate our approach.”

Speaking to reporters, Demkiw elaborated on the changes.

“We’ve seen behaviour on the ground change… a little bit more aggressive behaviour at times towards our officers while standing on the line, doing what they can to control circumstances.

“We’ve had people engage in disruptive behavior for sure. And also, the speed and flow of protests is changing,” he said.

“We’ve had pop-up events and very rapidly developing events happen recently that required us to pivot our response” to adapt, he told reporters. 

In Vaughan, just north of Toronto, Mayor Steven Del Duca announced March 18 that he would ask city council to pass a bylaw that would prohibit demonstrations within 100 metres of religious institutions, schools and hospitals.  

Two large-scale protests outside Thornhill synagogues, as well as antisemitic vandalism at a Chabad House and a bomb threat at a mosque were among the incidents Del Duca cited in a press release.

When asked, Demkiw wouldn’t speculate on whether protest-free zone legislation, if tabled and passed, would help, though he welcomed the concept, along with governments doing their part.

“I look forward to reading the details of how that bylaw unfolds to see what opportunities (that) provides,” he said.

“Every level of government has a role to play in doing what can be done to prevent hate, and any opportunity, whether legislative or otherwise, to create awareness and to stop this kind of behaviour is welcome by the police.”

Demkiw said police will enforce the law, and “will not allow critical infrastructure or public spaces to be closed.”

He also said that TPS has not and will not take sides at protests.

“We will continue to remain neutral during demonstrations, regardless of what’s being protested,” Demkiw said during the meeting.

“As tensions continue, we will continue to maintain the delicate balance between public safety and the freedom of expression. Our frontline officers understand their authority to arrest demonstrators.”

Police have made 24 protest-related arrests and laid 30 charges since Oct. 7, 2023, in response to threats, assaults and mischief, Demkiw told the police board.

“Investigations continue,” Demkiw told reporters after the meeting. “The charges may still be laid as investigators review evidence after some of these events.”

At the meeting, he’d reiterated that charges and arrests related to protests might not take place at the scene.

“On a number of occasions, officers have continued to investigate demonstration-related incidences following the event, and laid charges weeks later,” said Demkiw.  “Such investigations are not uncommon… and indeed, some are still open.”

Since Oct. 7, TPS made 69 arrests and laid 173 charges in total related to hate crime occurrences. Of those arrests and charges, 25 percent were related to mischief, 17 percent were for uttering threats, and 16 percent were assault related.

There were also 342 hate-related graffiti occurrences since Oct. 7, with “a spike in hate-related graffiti in October and November 2023,” according to TPS.

In February, a statue of the late Al Waxman, best known for his role in the TV show King of Kensington, was vandalized with graffiti that read “Vote for Hamas.”

Police arrested Michael Doyle, 41, of Toronto, on five separate mischief charges for spray-painting city property, including one hate-motivated mischief charge over the vandalized statue, which has since been restored.

Police also arrested and charged Michael Park, 35, of Toronto, alleging he vandalized several buildings in the King and Dufferin streets area with antisemitic graffiti and presented fake ID to officers.

Park, who has previously been arrested on similar charges, has been documented with a swastika tattoo on his chest. He was charged with three counts of mischief under $5,000 in the suspected hate-motivated mischief investigation.

“As demonstrated by the number of arrests and charges, our hate crime unit will continue to pursue incidents of hate-motivated behaviour fairly and firmly,” said Demkiw.

Demkiw reminded the police board that under-reporting of hate crimes presents an ongoing challenge to gathering these statistics, and said police regularly engage with the Jewish and Muslim communities. Anti-Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian hate crimes, rose to five occurrences this year, up from one in the same period last year.

“While under-reporting of all forms of hate crimes is a concern, I know from talking to people in the community that Islamophobia is a significant concern, and given our statistics I am concerned about significant under-reporting in this regard,” Demkiw said.

At the press conference, he shared a story from a recent visit to an Islamic centre that he said exemplified the under-reporting issue.

“I was really struck by a young high school student, a girl who described her experiences when she rides public transit,” and said the five reported hate crime occurrences this year wasn’t in line with what he heard from the community.

Demkiw confirmed that one mobile command post remains in the Bathurst Street corridor, near Bialik Hebrew Day School, and that one at Bathurst and Sheppard was scaled down to a police vehicle for a period of time. One mobile command post was redeployed Feb. 18 to the Jane and Finch area, where a shooting had taken place.

Demkiw says a mobile command unit is being deployed on a rotating basis to the city’s mosques on Saturdays and Sundays during Ramadan, along with increased patrols.

The police force is conducting training at its police college March 18 and 19 around pursuing incidents of hate-motivated behaviour.

Demkiw told reporters that training is available to all members of the police service.

“We have developed training internally around issues around Judaism and Islam to create a greater cultural competency around recognizing the impacts of hate and the impacts of events that are happening in our city so that our response can be effective even in the circumstances we’re facing,” he said.