Toronto police report an ongoing increase in calls concerning the Jewish community—as anti-Israel demonstrations come to downtown campuses

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

UPDATED 5/2/2024 to reflect that a protest encampment had been established on the University of Toronto’s downtown campus by Thursday, May 2.

The number of calls to Toronto police regarding suspected hate occurrences directed at members of the Jewish community continued to significantly increase, while members of the force have now attended over 650 demonstrations related to the Middle Eastern conflict since Oct. 7.

The latest statistics were provided by Toronto Police Service (TPS) Chief Myron Demkiw at an April 30 meeting of the police services board.

The same day, protesters staged a sit-in at Victoria and Gould Streets at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), where members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) also disrupted a board of governors meeting, according to on-campus media outlet The Eyeopener.

TMU issued a statement in response: “As protests spread across university campuses, we want to remind community members that everyone who is part of the university, as well as guests and visitors, has a role to play in creating a physically safe, inclusive, supportive and welcoming environment for all.”

Canadian protest actions join a tense wave of demonstrations taking the form of encampments across the U.S. following two weeks of protests at Columbia University in New York.

Demonstrators say they want universities to divest from Israeli interests, especially those involving arms, defence, or military technology industries, or at minimum disclose universities’ Israeli investments. In many of the encampments, protestors also call for academic boycotts of Israel.

The wave of campus-occupying demonstrations has been growing in Canada over the past week.

Campus encampments at the University of Ottawa, University of British Columbia’s Point Grey campus in Vancouver, and McGill University in Montreal were joined on Wednesday by one at Western University in London, Ont.—and, The Canadian Press reported later on Wednesday, two more in B.C., at the University of Victoria, and Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo.

The sit-in at TMU (formerly Ryerson)—from 2 to 10 p.m. Tuesday, according to The Eyeopener—appeared to have been the first of this kind in Canada’s largest city since the latest wave of encampment demonstrations.

However, a new encampment at the University of Toronto had been established by Thursday, despite prior warnings from the University of Toronto against encampments, and preemptive barriers erected on the campus over the weekend—a move which protest groups called an infringement on their civil rights.

Earlier in April, protesters occupied the office of the university’s president, Meric Gertler, for 30 hours, to demand the institution’s divestment from Israel.

On Wednesday, before the encampment had been established, the University of Toronto Faculty Association echoed that criticism in a written statement to administrators.

The faculty association called the “ban on encampments and building occupations… an unreasonable, disproportionate, and entirely premature attempt to inhibit the lawful and peaceful exercise of freedom of expression.”

Adding to the tensions felt in the city’s Jewish community, police have laid two charges of public incitement of hatred in 2024.

One incident was new since the last TPS update on hate crime statistics, in March, though both incidents took place following or during events on the same day as other demonstrations.

Police recently arrested and charged a 45-year-old man for antisemitic remarks recorded at a counter-protest in Nathan Phillips Square on April 7.

Videos document Razaali Awan Bah-Adur spreading the debunked Khazar theory and shouting other antisemitic rhetoric on a loudspeaker, such as “go back to Poland” and “you’re not Israeli” at Jews and other demonstrators—including some children—across police barriers. During a rally for Israel and the hostages, held six months after Oct. 7, rally attendees and counter-protesters were kept separate by TPS.

TPS arrested Awan Bah-Adur on April 11, and charged him with Public Incitement of Hatred and Fail to Comply Probation Order.

Several pro-Palestinian or decidedly anti-Israel protest groups and activists quickly published online statements denouncing Awan Bah-Adur and disavowing his antisemitic comments and rhetoric. 

Meanwhile, a prior charge of public incitement of hatred was laid against a 41-year-old man who, during a Jan. 7 protest downtown, allegedly waved the flag of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—which Public Safety Canada lists as a terror group.

The Crown prosecutor ultimately dropped the charges, but he cautioned Torontonians against flying the flags of recognized terror or hate groups, CBC News reported on April 26

On Tuesday, Chief Demkiw told the board that TPS attended 1,072 hate crime calls for service since Oct. 7.

In his last update, on March 18, that number was 989 calls for service related to hate crimes in that period. By The CJN’s count, that added 83 calls for service related to suspected hate offences in about the past six weeks.

“There have been 244 hate crime occurrences resulting in 77 arrests and 200 charges,” over the past seven months, Demkiw told the TPSB on April 30.

“We are continuing our daily engagement with, and increased presence in, Jewish and Muslim communities, including maintaining command posts near places of worship.”

The CJN reported April 19 on a suspected hate-motivated vandalism incident at a north Toronto synagogue involving a masked figure smashing five broken windows. TPS confirmed the Hate Crime Unit’s involvement in the investigation. 

Police say they are also investigating a second incident, in which two people dumped a dead raccoon in the same synagogue’s parking lot, as suspicious, according to the synagogue. The second incident took place on the first evening of Passover, April 22, days after the window-smashing incident.

Chief Myron Demkiw told the Toronto Police Services Board on April 30, 2024, that police had received 1,072 calls for service related to hate crimes since Oct. 7, and had attended 650 demonstrations in that time. (YouTube)

“Our Hate Crime Unit continues to investigate each reported instance of hate, and we want to remind everyone that charges may be laid at a later time, such as hours, days, and even weeks after an incident, including a demonstration-related incident,” said Demkiw. 

In addition, he noted a new Toronto Crime Stoppers campaign partnering with the TPS Board (TPSB) to help increase hate crime reporting and “bring awareness to the devastating impact hate crimes can have on our communities,” he said.

“We encourage the reporting of any suspected hateful act to police by calling us or by making an anonymous tip through Crime Stoppers. We are committed to doing everything possible to apprehend those responsible for hate crimes, and we encourage people to call even when they are not sure if what they saw meets the threshold of a hate crime,” Demkiw said

While TPS did not provide similar statistical breakdowns for the period since March 18 as it has in previous updates, TPS has commented in successive updates since Oct. 7 on the prevalence of antisemitism in those numbers.

In a news release March 18, TPS had written that “antisemitism accounts for more hate crimes than any other bias category this year and in years prior.”

“Of the 84 hate crimes so far in 2024, 56 percent are antisemitic,” said Demkiw March 18

“[February 2024] saw the highest number of antisemitic occurrences in the last three years.”

According to the TPS at the time, antisemitic hate crimes accounted for 47 of those 84 confirmed hate crimes so far in 2024. That number represented 83 percent increase in the number of hate crimes from the same period in 2023.

Several further incidents or arrests took place since Demkiw’s last update:

On March 20, Toronto city councillor James Pasternak reported an antisemitic “profanity-laced hate rant” voicemail left with his office. 

TPS charged Mehboob Rajwani, 64, from Markham, Ont. with uttering threats, indecent communication and criminal harassment, and confirmed the Hate Crime Unit was investigating the alleged offence.

In addition, following a demonstration near Gerrard and Parliament Streets on March 30, TPS arrested one person for spitting on an officer. Later, on April 23, TPS arrested a 61-year-old woman over an allegation of striking a police horse with a flagpole at the Land Day protest in the Cabbagetown area.

Others arrested and charged following that protest included a 24-year-old woman whom TPS alleges threw horse manure at officers, a 27-year-old woman TPS says attempted to “spear” at an officer using a flagpole, and a 34-year-old Mississauga man who was charged with assaulting a peace officer turned himself in after TPS released photos of him in connection with the incident.

Three other people, including activists Desmond Cole and Anna Lippman, are facing charges since arrests in mid-April on charges of mischief, member of unlawful assembly, and failure to leave premises, with upcoming court dates in May over a protest in late January inside a Toronto office tower in the Yonge St. and Eglinton Ave. area.

TPS alleges several people protesting inside the offices of Awz Ventures on Jan. 31 “obstructed the operation of the business and failed to leave when directed.”

The firm has ties to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and “funds technology companies that work with Israel’s military,” according to the Toronto Star.

Finally, following an instance of antisemitic vandalism on a Toronto Transit Commission bus shelter at Spadina Ave. and Dupont St., Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow blasted the hate speech in a post on Twitter on April 21.

“My office has spoken to transportation services and they have assured me that this hateful graffiti will be immediately removed. Antisemitism must be rejected in all its forms.”