In response to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting on Saturday, those living in the Greater Toronto Area can expect an increase in police visibility around places of worship, York Regional police said.
After a man allegedly shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire inside the Tree of Life Congregation in east Pittsburgh, killing 11 people and wounding six, Toronto authorities are taking extra precautions. Law enforcement across Canada will also be increasing patrols in Jewish communities and around Jewish community institutions.
“Better safe than sorry,” said York Regional police duty inspector, Staff Sgt. Andrew Graham. “As a result of the events we are increasing our police presence, visibility in all places of worship for the foreseeable future. We have no information that there is any type of threat of any kind, this is a total proactive measure.”
Graham said the increase won’t be limited to just synagogues.
York Regional police added they will not be increasing the number of officers on street patrols.
“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” said Toronto police spokesperson Gary Long.
Within the Jewish community, there is a growing advocacy for vigilance and resilience.
“We remain deeply concerned about the rise of violent anti-Semitism around the globe. The world’s oldest hatred is a scourge and should be of deep concern to all law abiding citizens,” Martin Sampson, vice-president communications at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs wrote in a press release to the Star. “This event is an horrific tragedy.
“We encourage our community to ensure they are following the established protocols, and if they see something suspicious, they should contact police immediately.”
While police say there is no information to indicate any increased security threats to the Jewish community in Canada, a 2016 report by Statistics Canada pointed to the Jewish community as the most targeted religious minority in the country.
According to the report, police-reported crimes motivated by hate against the Jewish population rose from 178 incidents in 2015 to 221 incidents in 2016 — an alarming increase of 24 per cent. In contrast, the number of crimes targeting the Catholic population fell from 55 to 27 incidents. Similarly, crimes targeting the Muslim population decreased 13 per cent, from 159 incidents in 2015 to 139 incidents in 2016.
Based on data from police services that reported characteristics of hate crimes, 43 per cent of police-reported hate crimes in 2016 were violent offences that included assault, uttering threats and criminal harassment.
Emerald Bensadoun is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @twerk_vonnegut