Toronto Police outlined how they are combatting hate crimes at a synagogue townhall meeting

Toronto Police officers and Members of Parliament discussed public safety and antisemitism, Feb.5, 2023.

Police in Toronto say they are doubling down on efforts to combat hate crimes that target the Jewish community.  

The details were revealed at townhall meeting on public safety, Feb. 5 at Adath Israel Congregation. Members of Parliament and representatives from the Toronto Police Service (TPS) were present.

“We recognize that the Jewish community continues to be targeted for hate-related crimes, so this year we’ve decided to add investigators to our hate crime unit. One of them is here,” said Deputy Chief Lauren Pogue, a 34-year veteran of the TPS. 

She pointed to Detective Kiran Bisla, a detective with the TPS Hate Crime Unit. Bisla’s role is to investigate all hate-related incidents and crimes. A hate crime is a criminal offense committed against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by hate, bias or prejudice against an identifiable group. This includes investigations where materials or hate speech are being disseminated.

The unit can only investigate a charge if a formal complaint is filed. Once the complaint makes its way to the unit, it is reviewed and a decision is made whether it constitutes criminal charges. 

“In order to combat hate, we require knowledge of what’s happening,” Bisla said.

She encouraged community members to report any hate crimes that they see. The Hate Crime Unit can be reached through Intelligence Services at 416-808-3500.

“We ensure that these reports are being taken seriously. Hate crimes are a service priority that we’re committed to investigating and educating the public in this area.”  

One issue raised by a community member was anti-Israel protests that have occurred downtown and what the TPS is doing. 

“We have a Charter right to protest,” said Staff Sergeant Mike Cosgrove, “but if there is an immediate threat to people’s safety, that is of paramount importance.”

Cosgrove said all their officers have body cameras to record information from different perspectives. 

He also pointed out that the investigation doesn’t start and end at the moment of the protest. Sometimes, charges can be laid after the fact.

In this case, Bisla said context is important when it comes to hate speech. She provided the example of a speech made in another language. It will be translated and transcribed, then investigated for hate speech. If it is classified as hate speech, charges can be laid. 

Antisemitism on social media was another topic of concern that was raised by a member of the audience.

While this is more difficult to prosecute because of anonymous accounts and individuals living in different countries, Bisla said Toronto police can still investigate what is reported to them.

Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino also called on social media to step up and disallow hate from permeating on its sites.

“We need social media to step up. We all sign a user agreement and we all agree to the terms of that. As part of that agreement, there’s an obligation that there isn’t any abuse or harassment,” he said.

The federal government is also involved in preventing antisemitic attacks before they even start, Mendicino said.

For example, the Security Infrastructure Program (SIP), administered through Mendicino’s department, provides funds for items such as cameras, security systems and safety training for community leaders. 

Cosgrove said the TPS has also created a neighborhood community program to support safety efforts. 

This program sees selected officers work for a four-year commitment. These officers confront issues such as general crimes, hate crimes and community engagement.  

Toronto Police has also created a Jewish Community Consultative Committee for further dialogue on community safety.

As well, Cosgrove recently joined UJA’s quarterly security meeting group alongside Detective Bisla. 

“It’s important to keep up with the community at that level,” he said. 

He encouraged community members to visit the Toronto Police’s website to review policies and procedures on protests and hate crimes. The citizen online reporting mechanism is also on the site. 

“If you are seeing something that is alarming and troubling, don’t assume that someone else has reported it. It’s very important for you to connect with us,” Cosgrove said. 

For example, he said there was antisemitic graffiti that appeared in the Bathurst Street and Steeles Avenue area last month. Once he was aware of this incident, he instructed officers to go into high visibility control and canvas the area. 

The goal was to provide assurance that police are aware of the incident and actively protecting the community. 

Meanwhile, governments are also focussing on education. The Ontario government introduced Holocaust education for Grade 6 students, starting next fall, Mendicino pointed out.

“We need dialogue and education. There is no one government that is going to solve it but we need to work together. We’re seeing more education built into the curriculum in the province of Ontario and this is something we should see across the country.”