Vancouver police explain the statistics behind the surge in reported antisemitic incidents during the final months of 2023

Vancouver Police Department Staff Sgt. Astrid Bonter speaks at a press conference on Jan. 16, 2024.

A press conference on Jan. 16 saw the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) announcing that it has seen a sharp increase in hate crimes in the past three months, including a considerable spike in antisemitism— as well as millions of dollars in overtime costs—since the conflict in the Middle East began.

“Sunday marked 100 days since the Hamas attack on Israel, a moment in history that will not be forgotten by the many communities directly and indirectly impacted by the violence of that day,” said VPD Staff Sgt. Astrid Bonter.

“While I cannot begin to speak on behalf of the communities embroiled in this conflict, I can say without question that your suffering is seen and heard.”

Vancouver police cited geopolitical tensions as a major factor in the rise of hate-fuelled incidents affecting the Jewish community. According to the VPD, reports of antisemitic incidents increased to 47 in 2023, an increase of 62 percent over the previous year.

“These numbers show the public what our community already knows,” said Nico Slobinsky, the vice president of the Pacific Region for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). “When an antisemitic incident occurs every two and a half days, it negatively affects how Jewish community members feel in public, at work, and our communal spaces.”

Among the hate crimes targetting the Jewish community that were mentioned by the VPD in its press conference were the accosting of two women by teenage boys after a pro-Israel rally on Oct. 9. The teenagers threatened to rape the women and slice their faces.

The VPD said officers immediately arrested the suspects, gathered additional evidence and recommended criminal charges to Crown Council. A 19-year-old and a 15-year-old were charged with uttering threats and assault.

As part of their bail conditions, they are not allowed to step foot in the City of Vancouver.

Another hate crime referenced in the press conference also took place in the days following the Oct. 7 attacks. A man repeatedly showed up at a Jewish day school uttering antisemitic comments and making a Nazi salute in front of several people, including a rabbi.

With officers positioned near Jewish schools and other organizations, the VPD said it was able to identify and arrest the suspect quickly. He has been charged with criminal harassment and his bail conditions prohibit him from going near the vicinity of the school.

In total, the VPD said it has investigated 50 criminal offences connected to the Israel-Hamas war, including assaults against police officers and cases of obstructing police. Suspects have been identified in 26 of the 50 incidents.

To date, the VPD has recommended criminal charges in 17 cases. Thus far, nine people being charged in connection with 11 different incidents. Six cases are currently being reviewed by Crown Counsel.

Much like elsewhere in Canada, Vancouver experienced an unprecedented number of protests from the end of last year through the beginning of 2024. Over 1,000 protests were held in the city during 2023, bringing with them a 27 percent increase in officers being deployed and significant overtime expenses.

Eighty of the Vancouver protests last year occurred after Oct. 7 and have been linked to the Israel-Hamas conflict. Those protests alone resulted in 1,800 overtime shifts at a cost of $2.5 million—which accounted for more than half of the $4 million the VPD spent altogether in overtime to monitor protests in 2023.

“Protests often draw large groups of people with opposing views and create significant volatility due to the emotions involved,” said Inspector Jeff Neuman, with the VPD’s Emergency Operations and Planning Section.

The section oversaw security planning and police deployment for 2,700 special events, including protests, last year in Vancouver.

“We support everyone’s right to peacefully assemble and express their views under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We encourage everyone who protests to do so peacefully, respectfully, and in accordance with the law. But, anyone who breaks the law or puts others’ safety at risk may face arrest and criminal charges,” Neuman said.

CIJA’s Slobinsky thanked the Vancouver police for protecting the Jewish community during this difficult time.

“We know that this comes at significant cost, and we therefore call on all levels of government to ensure that the VPD and other police forces have the resources required to ensure that the Jewish—and all other affected communities—can live safely,” he said.

CIJA and local Jewish organizations are urging the government of British Columbia to earmark more resources to bolster existing units that are responsible for investigating hate crimes and supply funds to establish them where they have not yet been formed.

Though the B.C. government has already created programs and resources, such as mandatory Holocaust education in school curricula, a racist incident helpline and an anti-hate community support fund, Slobinsky said more can be done.

“We will continue to educate our elected leaders about measures that will make life safer for all diverse communities in Vancouver and B.C.,” he said.

The VPD encouraged anyone who experiences a hate crime, and anyone who has concerns for their safety or the safety of others, to contact police. Emergencies should be reported to 9-1-1.