Update – November 19: Police Chief Charles Bordeleau, attending a solidarity event at Congregation Machzikei Hadas this morning, said that a teenage suspect has been arrested in conjunction with the spate of anti-Semitic and racist graffiti in Ottawa over the past week.
The suspect was caught early this morning after defacing the Soloway Jewish Community Centre. In addition to community and athletic facilities, the building, on the Jewish Community Campus, houses the offices of several organizations including the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.
The Ottawa Police Services hate crimes unit is investigating incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti at Ottawa’s two largest synagogues and at a home in the Glebe neighbourhood used as a Jewish Renewal prayer and study centre. The three incidents took place between November 13 and 17.
As well, similar incidents of racist and Islamophobic graffiti were discovered November 18 in Ottawa at a church with a black minister and at a mosque.
Congregants and shul officials arriving for morning prayers November 17 at Congregation Machzikei Hadas, Ottawa’s largest Orthodox synagogue, discovered swastikas painted on the doors to the shul and swastikas and anti-Semitic and white supremacist hate messages painted on the side of the building. Jewish Federation of Ottawa signage on the Machzikei grounds was similarly vandalized.
Rabbi Michael Goldstein, the congregation’s executive director, said police were immediately called and the graffiti was removed.
“We will not be intimated by this cowardly act,” said Rabbi Idan Scher, the congregation’s spiritual leader. “This act will not impact the services and programs offered at the shul. The morning services continued without interruption and we will continue stronger and more unified than ever.”
Rabbi Reuven Bulka, rabbi emeritus of Machzikei Hadas, said the incident was a rare occurrence, that there had only been one other incident at the shul in the decades since the congregation moved to its Alta Vista location in 1973.
A similar incident was discovered on November 13 at Kehillat Beth Israel (KBI), Ottawa’s major Conservative congregation. Officials at KBI immediately filed a police report and had the graffiti removed quickly but did not make the incident public until after the attack at Machzikei Hadas came to light.
KBI Co-President Stuart McCarthy said the initial decision to not publicize the incident was made to deny validation to the vandals.
Rabbi Eytan Kenter, KBI’s spiritual leader, noted that congregational life has continued normally since the incident with services, meetings and classes taking place as scheduled. “I can think of no better way to ‘stick it’ to those responsible than by ignoring their attempts to bring terror and fear to our community,” he said on Facebook. “We cleaned up and lived our lives as usual and that must be devastating to the perpetrators of this act.”
On November 15, an incident of anti-Semitic graffiti was reported at the home of Anna Maranta, leader of the Glebe Minyan, a Jewish Renewal prayer and study group. Most of the group’s programs take place at Maranta’s home.
“Obviously, there is deep concern in Ottawa’s Jewish community and we are horrified by these blatant displays of hatred,” said Jewish Federation of Ottawa President and CEO Andrea Freedman.
“We are working closely with the Ottawa Police Services who have responded quickly to all of these incidents and are taking this matter very seriously,” Freedman said. “These acts of cowardice are an affront not just to the Jewish community, but to all Ottawans and Canadians who share our core values of respect, tolerance and kindness.”
Freedman also noted an outpouring of support from other faith communities in Ottawa and from elected officials.
“It is reassuring to know they join us in standing up against all acts of racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry. The Jewish community of Ottawa will not be intimidated and we will stand united against such deplorable acts of hatred,” she said.
Among the officials expressing their support was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“To the Canadian Jewish community: I stand with you. Our government denounces recent acts of anti-Semitism in the strongest terms,” Trudeau tweeted from Argentina November 17 while on an official visit there.
The incidents discovered on November 18 took place at Parkdale United Church, which is led by Reverend Anthony Bailey, a prominent African-Canadian clergyman in Ottawa, and at the Ottawa Muslim Association, a mosque led by Imam Samy Metwally.
The Islamophobic graffiti attack on the mosque came after the Ottawa Muslim Association posted a message on its website expressing solidarity with the Jewish community following the anti-Semitic incidents earlier in the week:
“Such hate crimes have no place in our communities and are contrary to the spirit of inclusion that makes our city such a safe and wonderful place to live. We stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters in solidarity. Anti-Semitism hurts all of us in the same way that any other form of hatred hurts us.”
The Jewish Federation of Ottawa and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs quickly expressed Jewish community solidarity with the church and mosque.
“Federation is angered by last night’s hateful, racist vandalism at a church and a mosque in Ottawa. We stand in solidarity with our Christian and Muslim friends who, like the Jewish community, have recently been targeted by acts of hate,” Federation posted on Facebook.
“We know from the overwhelming outpouring of support and condemnation that the sentiments expressed in this vandalism are not representative of the broader Ottawa community. It is important we come together and condemn hate in all its forms.”
Ottawa Police Services Insp. Mike Laviolette said police are investigating all of the incidents and exploring the possibility that all may be related.
“There are certainly similarities with the first three incidents targeting Jewish institutions, so that’s certainly a theory that we’re exploring,” he said.
Anyone with knowledge of any of these incidents is urged to contact the Ottawa Police Services hate crimes unit at 613-236-1222, ext. 2466.
This story will be updated as new information becomes available.