MONTREAL — Hateful acts targeting Jews and Muslims in Montreal since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war are prompting anxiety but also some defiance among community members.
A recent series of antisemitic acts in Montreal led Ethan Armand Hotchkiss to don his kippah during a basketball game Thursday to proudly exhibit his Jewish identity.
It was "the first time in a very long time" he wore the religious garment, he said Friday outside the fitness centre down the street from Talmud Torah Elementary School, one of two Jewish schools in Montreal that were hit with bullets earlier this week.
But though Hotchkiss feels safe wearing the symbol at Jewish community events, he said he's not doing so regularly in public to avoid potentially dangerous situations.
"I’m just trying to not make myself too overt," Hotchkiss explained. "I won’t necessarily wear my kippah every day, going to the metro or going up the street to get groceries or whatever, just because I don’t know if I’ll maybe get some racist rhetoric along the way."
Montreal Jewish community leaders say its members are scared after a rash of antisemitic violence that began after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that killed around 1,200 people, most of them civilians. Israel's Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the death toll was revised down from 1,400, but did not provide an explanation. Israel's retaliatory bombardment of the Gaza Strip has killed more than 11,000 people, officials in the Palestinian territory have reported.
In addition to the gunshots at the Talmud Torah and Yeshiva Gedola schools, Montreal police are investigating two firebombings that occurred in the night between Monday and Tuesday and that caused minor damage to a synagogue and an office belonging to Jewish advocacy group Federation CJA, both in the suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux. There were no reports of injuries in any of the four incidents.
"We are addressing not tens, not hundreds, thousands of calls daily about concerns about security," Federation CJA president and CEO Yair Szlak told a news conference Tuesday. That fear, he added, has driven many members of the community to reconsider their public displays of religious symbols.
"People are asking … should we be able to go because we wear a kippah? Should we hide our Magen David? Should we take off our mezuzah? We are hearing this in real time," he said. The Magen David, also known as the Star of David, is often worn as a pendant in a necklace; the mezuzah is a decorative case, holding a parchment scroll, that Jews affix to door frames.
In the month after the Oct. 7 start of the war, Montreal police counted 41 reports of hate crimes targeting the Jewish community and 14 reports of hate crimes against Arabs or Muslims.
But Stephen Brown, the Montreal-based CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said members of the local Muslim community have reported to his organization several instances in which Montreal police did not take complaints as seriously as residents would have hoped. Brown said his organization has been inundated with reports of racism, hate and violence against Muslims since Oct. 7.
In Montreal, he said those incidents have included racist graffiti and multiple assaults on Muslim women, such as women getting spat on and at least three women having their hijabs ripped off.
Input from the Muslim community has made clear "this is the worst spate of Islamophobia that the community has seen since the post-9/11 period," Brown said in a phone interview Friday. "People are afraid to express their identities right now."
He called on Canadian authorities to take threats against Muslim and Arab people seriously, and on elected officials to make sure distant geopolitical struggles don't boil over domestically.
"Leaders in the country need to be very, very clear that conflicts that happen in the rest of the world should not have any contagion effect and spread that conflict to Canada," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2023.
— With files from The Associated Press.
Thomas MacDonald, The Canadian Press