Two men found guilty of hate crimes in Hamilton

Graffiti found outside a Hamilton, Ont. synagogue, October 2019.

A pair of Hamilton, Ont. men who scrawled anti-Semitic graffiti on a local synagogue have been convicted of hate crimes.

Liam Greaves and Blake Trautman will find out in August what that alcohol-fuelled act will cost them, but the cost to members of the city’s Beth Jacob Synagogue is already clear.

“We have Holocaust survivors in our membership and it was very frightening for them to come to shul that day find this graffiti on our parking lot,” Rabbi Hillel Lavery-Yisraeli said in an interview. “It was traumatic for the entire community and neighbourhood.”

The rabbi added he will be writing a victim impact statement to be presented in court when the men are sentenced Aug. 11.

While this incident may seem minor, he said it is important to take a strong stand against hate.

“Any time you have a crime of this sort that targets a community it poses the potential for a snowball effect,” he said.

Brenda Burjaw, a member of the synagogue’s executive committee, said in an email exchange that members of the shul are generally pleased that the incident was ruled a hate crime “and that being drunk and 19 cannot be an excuse.”

She added there is a feeling among members for the punishment not to be so severe that it triggers more hate.

A special concern, she added, is for younger synagogue members who saw the drawings—their feelings from that incident have been compounded in recent weeks by social media hate unleashed by the conflict in Israel.

 “Elders in the community were upset, but it’s just part of being Jewish. We all, unfortunately, (grow) up in life finding the spaces where we can be confident about our Jewish culture and hide our faith and heritage at other times because of hate,” she wrote.

“Life ideally in Hamilton should be full acceptance but it is not. However Hamilton is moving in the right direction to help make it better.”

Greaves and Trautman appeared in court in Hamilton May 19 and were each convicted on two charges of mischief, with the incidents being elevated to hate crimes at the request of assistant Crown attorney Clare Hopkins.

As reported by the Hamilton Spectator, Judge Bernd Zabel said he elevated the crimes because the actions were motivated by “animus based on religion and race toward the Jewish members of that house of worship.”

Court was told Greaves and Trautman, along with two others, were drinking the night of Oct. 4, 2019. As they were leaving to walk to a local pool hall Trautman grabbed two pieces of sidewalk chalk.

As they crossed the Beth Jacob property, Greaves used one piece to scrawl on the parking lot the word Jews in a circle with a red line through it. Trautman used another piece to draw a swastika.

In other parts of the same neighbourhood, they added more anti-Semitic and anti-Black graffiti to the sidewalks.

The incidents were reported to police the next day, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The attack was captured on the shul’s security cameras, and Greaves and Trautman were later identified by their drinking buddies and turned themselves in.

The Beth Jacob incident was one of 90 hate crimes reported to police in Hamilton in 2019. That, Statistics Canada reports, was a 61 per cent increase over 2015 but down slightly from 96 incidents in 2018.

In another Hamilton-area incident, two Burlington men were convicted in January of willfully promoting hatred for a spree of incidents in Burlington that included posting anti-Semitic materials on private cars and public buildings. Each received a six-month conditional sentence and two years probation.

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