MONTREAL— A complaint has been filed with the Montreal police force’s hate crimes unit over online threats of violence and anti-Semitism after police officers broke up gatherings at several synagogues for violation of the province’s pandemic lockdown rules.
Lawyer Laurent Sabbah filed the complaint on Jan. 26, providing evidence of “dozens” of posts inciting hate and violence against Jews on Facebook and other social media. At least one called to “kill all Jews” and another suggested burning the synagogue, while others used disparaging terms like rats and cockroaches.
Sabbah told the Montreal Gazette that, within a couple of hours of filing his complaint, he was contacted by an investigator with the Montreal police hate crimes unit. He said the police appear to be taking his complaint “very seriously.”
An amateur video of the clash between Hasidic synagogue-goers and police on Friday evening, Jan. 22, outside a Skver synagogue on Durocher Street was viewed nearly 10,000 times, Sabbah said, and generated some 4,700 comments.
One video posted online by media outlets shows men and some women and children running from the building into the dark street. Shouts of “Nazi” are heard in the noisy melee
Federation CJA said it is aware of “many disturbing examples of how anger has crossed the line into anti-Semitism” in response to what happened. The organization is urging anyone who comes across hateful posts to flag them for Facebook, directing them to a form on how to report anti-Semitism to the social media giant made available by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
At a press conference on Jan. 26, Premier Francois Legault confirmed that places of worship in the province are restricted to admitting a maximum of 10 people at a time in one building, and not in each room. They must also register each person entering.
A Jan. 21 ministerial decree sought by an inter-religious council that allows places of worship, which had been closed completely since Jan. 9, to this limited reopening caused considerable confusion. Hasidic leaders claim they understood it to mean a return to a key aspect of the measures in place between Oct. 1 and Jan. 8.
During that period, 25 physically distanced people could be admitted in each room which has an entrance to the exterior and is not contiguous with the rest of the building.
In fact, Montreal public health department official Dr. David Kaiser confirmed that on Jan. 24 in writing to the Hasidic community, only to be contradicted a few hours later by the department’s Dr. Mylène Drouin, who apologized for the mixed messages.
Hasidic community leaders say the more than 200 offences recorded by police will be contested if the office of criminal and penal prosecutions decides to levy fines, which start at $1,500 per person. Two people were also arrested for obstruction of a police officer and uttering a threat. The force is also looking into whether assault charges will be laid.
“I know it is difficult, but the rules apply to everyone. They are for the common good,” Legault said. “There will be no preferential treatment (passe-droit) for anyone.”