Year after year, according to Statistics Canada , Jews are the single, most targeted group in Canada in terms of hate crimes. Jewish Canadians comprise 1% of the population, yet in 2018 (the last year for which statistics are available), Jews were the target of nearly 20% of all documented hate crimes in the country.
Antisemitism is on the rise around the world and Canada has not been immune to its almost viral spread.
In 2019, French Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner, reported a 74% rise in antisemitism acts in France, including 81 acts of violence, murder attempts and one case of homicide. Some 824 Jewish institutions are under police and military protection, while 70% of French Jews report having experienced antisemitism. In January, 2020, President Macron warned that “antisemitism resurfaces, violent, brutal” and “that it is not just a problem for Jews, it is foremost the problem of others”.
Similarly, in the U.K. in 2019, the Community Security Trust (CST) witnessed a record number of antisemitic incidents for the fourth year in a row. In the first six months of 2020, CST recorded 789 antisemitic incidents (including 47 assaults) across the United Kingdom, the third highest total that CST has recorded in the January-June period of any year. In strictly statistical concerns, this represents a decrease of 13% from the 911 incidents reported to CST in the first six months of 2019, which remains the highest total that CST has ever recorded for the January to June period. However, it should be noted that over the last several years, antisemitism in the
U.K. has infiltrated the political mainstream and this trend has continued in the current year’s six-month experience.
In Germany, in October, 2020, the head of Germany’s domestic security agency warned that Jews in Germany are facing increasing levels of antisemitism. In 2019, authorities also recorded 2,032 crimes motivated by antisemitism – a rise of 13% over 2018, and the highest since those statistics were first collected. Antisemitism is increasingly violent in Germany, with Jews being harassed and violently assaulted on the streets.
In the U.S. in 2019, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported more than 2,100 antisemitic incidents in the United States, a 12% jump and the most in any year since it began tracking antisemitic incidents four decades ago.
Antisemitism exists across the extremist political spectrum, from the far right to the far left and notably, in radical Islamist circles. While this note will focus on the white supremacist phenomenon identified with the far right, equal attention should be given to antisemitism in all of its ideological manifestations. It is not an either/or proposition, even if it manifests differently within various segments of society. Antisemitism must be fought whatever its ideological underpinnings – because its objectives remain the same regardless of its source.
What follows are eight specific recommendations that we believe, if implemented, would make a meaningful difference in the necessary fight against the scourge of white supremacism.
1. Online hate
Online hate and conspiracy theories fuel real-world violence, as seen in the deadly attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh and San Diego County, homes in Monsey, kosher markets in Jersey City, mosques in Quebec and Christchurch, and a van attack targeting women in Toronto.
The Government of Canada should create a national strategy to tackle online hate and radicalization using the 2019 House of Commons Justice Committee report as a foundation. This should be done in partnership with impacted communities and private sector social media enterprises, to ensure an effective approach to prevent these platforms from being exploited to disseminate hate. There should also be a significant focus on online antisemitism, utilizing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, as perCanada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019-2022.
In addition, to close the legal gap on hate speech and protect Canadians, a civil remedy based in human rights law should be re-established, with strong provisions to protect legitimate freedom of expression and prevent vexatious use of the legislation.
2. More robust use of the existing Criminal Code provisions on terrorism
In 2019, the Canadian government added two white supremacist organizations to the Public Safety Canada list of terror organizations pursuant to s. 83.05 of the Criminal Code: Blood & Honour and Combat 18.
That was an encouraging development, one that CIJA applauded. A more robust use of this section of the Criminal Code should be adopted against white supremacist groups where appropriate and whenever applicable.
While of course there is a need to balance the imperatives of respect for the law on the one hand, with the rights and freedoms of every Canadian on the other, this does not preclude or contradict the need to use all of the legal tools at our disposal to combat far right extremists. After all, as s. 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms affirms: “[e]veryone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person”.
3. More forceful use of the existing Criminal Code provisions on hate speech
Serious consideration should be given to a more consistent use of the hate speech provisions found in ss. 318-19 of the Criminal Code to make it a more effective tool against hate. The Government of Canada should provide training and guidelines to help provincial attorneys general, prosecutors and police more effectively enforce these Criminal Code hate speech provisions. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism should be utilized as a practical tool in these training initiatives, following its adoption by the federal government as part of Canada’s Anti- Racism Strategy.
4. S. 70 of the Criminal Code: Order-in-Council to ban militia groups
Section 70 of the Criminal Code found under the “Offences Against Public Order – Unlawful Assemblies and Riots” section of the Code – provides the Government the authority to prohibit militias from meeting and training. Where appropriate, the Canadian government should make more use of this section. Right-wing extremist groups are starting to grow their presence in this country. The Canadian government should make more use of s. 70, where appropriate, to impede the growth of this scourge before it takes further root. Militias have no place in Canada.
5. New listing provisions in the Criminal Code
There are groups that do not fit either the definition of terrorist groups or militias, but whose activities are toxic and whose views pose a danger and threat to Canadians. They are active; they spread their infectious venom and threaten to erode the very foundational values of our society.
Government should consider creating new provisions in the Criminal Code that would allow for the identification, listing and banning of neo-Nazi groups, along with other groups that willfully promote hateful, hate-inspired and violent ideologies.
6. Make Holocaust denial and distortion illegal in Canada
Holocaust denial and distortion is a shared attribute and characteristic of antisemitism across the extremist political spectrum. It is also one of the main propaganda tools used by neo-Nazis and white supremacists, who willfully promote hatred against Jews.
It should be banned in Canada, just as it has been done in many of our like-minded allies in Europe and elsewhere.
As Katharine Von Schnurbein, European Commission Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life, stated on October 21, 2020, during the opening session of the U.S Department of State virtual conference on online antisemitism, Holocaust denial and distortion is illegal in Europe:
“….We are of course aware that legislation on hate speech differs between the United States and the European Union. Speech that incites to hatred and violence is illegal across the European Union. That includes Holocaust denial and distortion.” (At approx. 23:45 minutes). Elaboration on the EU position can be found here.
Moreover, “within the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), 16 countries have laws under which Holocaust denial is a criminal or civil offense, a further four have hate speech provisions that cover the phenomenon, and one IHRA liaison country and two IHRA observer countries have Holocaust denial laws. 21 EU member countries have transposed the Framework Decision through specific legislation on Holocaust denial. Outside of the IHRA and EU, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, and Russia have similar regulations.”
Sister democracies in Europe – who value freedom of expression as much as we do in Canada
– have criminalized Holocaust denial and distortion. Social media giants Facebook and Twitter have banned Holocaust denial. Given the role of Holocaust denial in fomenting antisemitism, there is no justification for this hateful propaganda not being legislated as illegal in Canada. Indeed, there is a compelling rationale in support of introducing such a legal measure in 2020.
7. Establish a community institution security rebate
The federal government should establish a security rebate program for vulnerable communities’ places of worship, schools, and community centres. Institutions that pay for security personnel (guards from licensed companies or paid duty police officers) could submit those receipts with their annual filing to Canada Revenue Agency and be reimbursed for a portion of the total cost. This program would complement funding for security infrastructure improvements available in some provinces to help ensure that targeted communities can feel safe and secure in their gathering places.
8. Equip police to counter hate crime and support targeted communities
In addition to supporting vulnerable institutions directly, specialized police hate crime units have proven valuable in protecting targeted communities and engaging at-risk groups. Hate crime units ensure that officers with specialized knowledge, experience, resources, and tools handle these cases. Critical infrastructure units conduct training programs and manage the deployment of police at vulnerable locations and events. Community liaison units also play a vital role as key connectors between police and at-risk communities, conducting training, and strengthening trust, understanding, and responsiveness to local needs. Many local police agencies struggle with inadequate resources in these key areas which are key to protecting and empowering vulnerable communities. The federal government should provide additional resources to bolster existing police hate crime and community liaison units, or to establish these units in jurisdictions where they do not yet exist.
While not the only source of antisemitism, white supremacism/neo-Nazism is of grave concern for Canadian Jews, not least because of its record of translating rhetorical hate into active violence.
We call on our political leaders to put into place a solid, robust and comprehensive strategy to combat this scourge and stand ready to do our part in advancing this important goal.