TORONTO – Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to the World Jewish Congress in New York this week where she stressed Canada’s commitment to fighting radicalization and terrorism – particularly as part of the battle against Islamic State militants.
Talking on issues of great concern to the international Jewish community, Freeland spoke about the Canadian government’s efforts in combating antisemitism. Referring to recent hate crime statistics indicating that Canadian Jews are the target of 17 per cent of the country’s hate crimes (in Toronto, Jews are the single most-targeted victim group of hate crimes), Freeland said, “The government of Canada is committed to ensuring the safety and security of Canada’s Jewish community.”
She also promised that the federal government will double the funding for its security infrastructure program (the Communities at Risk: Security Infrastructure Program), calling such initiatives “key to protecting the rights of all Canadians to freely practice their faith and their culture.”
The program was designed “to help communities at risk of hate-motivated crime improve their security infrastructure.”
Under the Communities at Risk: Security Infrastructure Program, places of worship, educational institutions and community centres can apply for funding assistance for projects like security assessments or the purchase and installation of security equipment, “including alarm systems, fences, gates, lighting, security film for windows, closed circuit television systems, cameras, relocation of existing cameras, anti-graffiti sealant, motion detectors, signage and landscaping.”
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m glad that this program exists. Given our current social climate, particularly in the Jewish community in the wake of several bomb threats targeting Jewish community centres, extra layers of security go a long way to making people feel safer. But I am very disappointed that the government seems to feel that barring windows and putting up cameras is the best way to protect “communities at risk.”
During her World Jewish Congress address, Freeland asserts that, “Recent incidents are a reminder for us in Canada that the inclusive and generous society we want to build is a precious and delicate work in progress.” A work in progress. We can’t just wait for white supremacists to attempt to spray-paint swastikas on community centres and then laugh, “Ha! Our fence and anti-graffiti sealant spoiled your plan!” There needs to be more active preventative strategies, and the way I see it, that comes in two forms.
First is more of a willingness on the part of law enforcement to act against hate speech and hate crimes. The recent conviction of Arthur Topham for wilfully promoting antisemitic hate speech online is a small step in the right direction (though his sentence was disappointingly lenient). But many others who have made similarly inflammatory statements have been able to hide behind claims of their right to free speech. If the government is truly dedicated to promoting the safety of Canadian Jews and making them less of a target, they need to take the current legislature seriously and actually charge the proponents of hate crimes with...wait for it…. a hate crime.
Some might argue that a person sitting at his or her computer tweeting hateful rhetoric, though upsetting, doesn’t affect the Jewish community’s immediate safety. But if that person, say, has thousands of followers online, then that many people will potentially be influenced by the subject matter, many of whom likely agree and may even want to act on it. Those tweets and Facebook posts can actually go a long way in influencing others to act, and when we allow hate speech and the promotion of violence to flourish, we can’t be surprised when people take it literally.
The second step the government must take to prevent hate incidents against Canadian Jews is something I have long advocated for: education. Don’t just wait until someone has decided that they hate minorities and then try to rehabilitate them. Actively take steps to prevent radicalization by educating the public.
Last year, Toronto ran a campaign against anti-black racism and Islamophobia. That’s exactly the kind of thing that needs to happen nationwide, and with more of an inclusive focus. If Jews are the most targeted group in Canada, run a nationwide campaign dispelling anti-Jewish stereotypes, just like Germany’s “Rent-A-Jew” program looks to fight antisemitism. Get programs into schools to teach kids at a young age why racism and discrimination is wrong. Run television ads.
Frankly, when it comes to promoting the safety and well-being of Canadian minorities, particularly the Jewish community, I think it’s time the government put its money where its mouth is. Instead of only funding efforts for Jews to barricade themselves away, put some effort into actual preventative measures like litigation and education. That’s how you’ll actually help members of our community feel safe.
Sara McCleary has written extensively on a wide range of topics while working as a news reporter and freelancer. She has also completed a master's degree in history, and further graduate work in interdisciplinary humanities.