Toronto’s police chief revealed a new kippah for Jewish officers to wear on duty while reporting the latest statistics concerning hate crimes, graffiti and protests in the city

Toronto police kippah revealed during a police services board meeting on Dec. 19, 2023.

More than half of the total reported hate crimes in Toronto in the 10 weeks since Oct. 7 have been antisemitic in nature, reported Chief Myron Demkiw in his monthly update to the police services board—during which he also unveiled a kippah specially designed for Jewish officers to wear while on duty, if they choose to do so.

The meeting primarily served as the 2024 budget-funding request for the Toronto Police Service (TPS). A request to add 307 sworn officers includes 110 specifically dedicated to investigations, a category that includes members of the hate-crimes unit.

A technical briefing to the news media in November had the TPS reporting that the number of officers in the hate-crimes unit had increased from six to 28 officers earlier this fall.

Speaking to the board and the public at police headquarters, Demkiw reiterated his safety commitment applies to all residents—and he believes having a visible presence in communities has been a deterrence.

“While the Jewish, Palestinian and Muslim communities have demonstrated tremendous resiliency during these incredibly challenging times, as a police service we continue to be resolute, committed to ensuring public safety and security—while also ensuring that the constitutional right to free speech is maintained,” said Demkiw, who noted at least 248 public demonstrations have required police management since Oct. 7.

“This is a delicate balance.”

The recorded number of 2023 hate-crime occurrences in Toronto is 338, compared to 239 at this time last year.

The number of occurrences defined as antisemitic between Jan. 1 and Dec. 17 was 147, while 81 occurrences were reported between those dates in 2022.

In the 10 weeks since Oct. 7, a total of 56 the 98 reported hate-crime occurrences were defined as antisemitic, compared to 18 in the same period last year—amounting to 53 percent of the total reported hate crimes, according to the chief’s update.

There were 20 hate crime reports defined as anti-Muslim/Palestinian/Arab during the same period—up from two the previous year—and 11 reported hate crimes targeting the LGBTQ community, up from eight in the same period in 2022.  

Since launching its web form for reporting graffiti on Nov. 8  to “provide the community with an alternative method to report hate-motivated graffiti,” the TPS says it has received 129 online submissions, of which eight were confirmed as hate crimes.

With the addition of this web form, a total of 159 “hate-crime graffiti occurrences” had been reported to police since Oct. 7. The statistic includes 111 antisemitic occurrences (up from 12 in 2022) and 27 anti-Muslim/Palestinian/Arab occurrences (up from one in the same period last year).

Demkiw’s dedication to addressing the spike in hate crimes amidst events in the Middle East were acknowledged by Toronto Police Services Board chair Ann Morgan, who also noted the one-year anniversary of the chief’s swearing-in.

The 33-year veteran of the force was praised for upholding the facilitation of “lawful protests” and remaining “vigilant and resolute.”

Previous downtown Toronto protests drew 20,000 or more demonstrators supporting Palestinians and the ceasefire in Gaza—which Canada voted for at the UN. But lately, the highest-profile protests have taken place at shopping malls.

TPS is investigating threats made between two parties present during one such protest at the CF Toronto Eaton Centre on Dec. 17, parts of which are shown in videos circulating widely on social media and in mainstream news reports.

The entire context of the exchange that led to the widely publicized threat incident remains unclear at present, although videos show several officers were present during the exchange outside the Zara clothing store. TPS says officers physically kept the two parties apart.

In a brief interview, Demkiw told The CJN the police response to mall protests are contextual due to the fact that they are privately owned premises.

“We are working closely with the mall ownership to ensure our response is robust and proportionate… [and] supports the malls in the most appropriate way we can as things are changing and developing as it relates to public demonstrations.”  

On the question of how the TPS handles situations when officers are witness to threats, spokesperson Stephanie Sayers says discretion is used when it comes to making arrests in dynamic situations.

“When tensions are high and there are large crowds of people, including the general public, officers must use their best judgment at the time, taking everyone’s safety into consideration. 

“On Sunday evening, the mall was very busy with holiday shoppers, and officers used their training to de-escalate the situation and disperse the crowd.

“We did not issue a news release about the situation seen on video—but did tell media when asked that we are investigating the incident.” 

In his update, Chief Demkiw mentioned the TPS has been “keeping close watch on the announcement of the RCMP arrest of a young person being charged with terrorism related offences, activity that targeted the Jewish community” in an Ottawa arrest of a minor on Dec. 15.  

Police in Ottawa subsequently added three additional charges following a raid on the teen’s home in which officers say they found materials used to make explosives.

Demkiw said that the mobile command centres at the Bathurst & Glencairn and Bathurst & Sheppard intersections will remain throughout the holiday season.

In other areas of the city, TPS command vehicles are rotating between different mosques, while a scout car is visible on Church Street in the Gay Village.  

The command posts are designed to make officers accessible to local community members, answer questions or take reports.

But the board meeting also included a deputant getting personal about his recent experiences. Steve Mason said he no longer feels safe in the city where he has lived his entire life.

“As a Jew, I’m afraid to put a mezuzah on my front door for fear that I will be the victim of antisemitic violence which has now become so pervasive in this city. I’m afraid to take my kids to the mall.

“My daughter has a necklace with a Star of David on it, my son, [one with] a mezuzah on it, and I forbid them from wearing it outside for fears that they will be victims of violence.” 

Demkiw’s presentation included him showing off the new TPS-branded kippah that made its debut during a Hanukkah menorah lighting at police headquarters last week, which is similar to optional uniform additions available for religiously observant officers who are Muslim or Sikh.

“We have now done the same for our Jewish members.”