New Canadian law makes vandalism of Jewish buildings a hate crime
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'The sewing of this was done over some time, and now we are reaping the rewards'

New Canadian law makes vandalism of Jewish buildings a hate crime

Jewish community plays leading role in drafting and lobbying for passage of amendment to criminal code

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Spray-painted swastikas on the doors of the Machzikei Hadas synagogue in Ottawa, November 2016. (Screenshot)
Spray-painted swastikas on the doors of the Machzikei Hadas synagogue in Ottawa, November 2016. (Screenshot)

Canada’s House of Commons passed a law on Wednesday which broadens the definition of hate crimes by including acts of vandalism against any Jewish communal property. In Canada, hate crimes are punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.

According to a newly released Anti-semitism audit by B’nai Brith Canada, 2016 was a record-breaking year, with a 26% increase in anti-Semitic incidents over the prior year. Of the 1,728 anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, 158 (9%) were categorized as vandalism, defined as the posting of graffiti, swastikas, racist emblems and slogans, as well as damage to religious objects such as mezuzahs, desecration of cemeteries and synagogues, and fire-bombing and arson.

The new law, Bill C-305, amends Canada’s criminal code by including in the definition of “religious property” Jewish community centers, schools, or other buildings or institutions identifiably associated with the Jewish community.

The criminal code had previously stated that “hate-motivated mischief” relating to religious property applied only to houses of worship such as synagogues, churches, temples and mosques. The new law extends the definition of a religious property to include any institution associated with an identifiable community that is primarily used as an educational institution or for administrative, social, cultural, or sports events, or as a residence for seniors.

Of the 1,728 anti-Semitic incidents in Canada in 2016, 158 (9%) were categorized as vandalism

The law provides protection for property-related crimes motivated by hate based not only on religion, but also race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, and mental or physical disability. However, a 2015 Statistics Canada report concluded that Jewish Canadians are targeted for hate more than any other religious minority in Canada.

According to the Anti-semitism audit by B’nai Brith Canada, 57% of the acts of vandalism in 2016 were committed in the province of Ontario, whose largest city, Toronto, is home to Canada’s most sizeable Jewish community.

UJA Federation of Greater Toronto campaign director and counsel Steven Shulman told The Times of Israel he sees the passage of the new law as the taking of a proactive step “to preserve and promote what is special in Canada” at a time when hate is on the rise worldwide.

‘It’s a symbol of how high a priority the country gives to harmony and mutual respect’

“It’s a symbol of how high a priority the country gives to harmony and mutual respect,” he said.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the advocacy arm of the Jewish Federations of Canada worked extensively with MPs from all parties and a diversity of partners in other communities to advance the introduction and passage of this legislation to close the gap in the criminal code.

The bill that was passed in a unanimous vote on Wednesday was initially tabled by Indian-born Hindu Liberal MP Chandra Arya. However, an earlier version of the legislation was drafted by CIJA’s general counsel and senior government advisor Richard Marceau back in 2005 when he was an MP.

Richard Marceau, CIJA general counsel and senior political advisor (Courtesy)
Richard Marceau, CIJA general counsel and senior political advisor (Courtesy)

More recently, CIJA mobilized more than 20 faith and ethnic organizations across a range of communities, including Christian, Muslim, and Sikh representatives, to write to Arya in support of C-305. CIJA also created an action alert, mobilizing members of the Jewish community, as well as several other faith and ethnic communities, to write to their local MPs to encourage them to support the bill.

“The sewing of this was done over some time, and now we are reaping the rewards,” Marceau said.

Andrea Freedman, President and CEO, Jewish Federation of Ottawa (Howard Sandler)
Andrea Freedman, President and CEO, Jewish Federation of Ottawa (Howard Sandler)

The law comes too late to apply in the case of a teen who was convicted of and is currently being sentenced for a hate-motivated spray painting spree last November in Ottawa. Over the course of a week, the teen painted swastikas and anti-Semitic messages on two synagogues and a rabbi’s home that was also used as a prayer center. He also defaced a mosque, and a church with a black pastor with racist graffiti.

Andrea Freedman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa has closely followed the case which shook the local community.

“The new law is a substantial and practical step forward, and this case is an example of why it is needed,” she said.

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