Canada has the fourth largest Jewish community in the world, with a population of over 390,000. More than eight in ten Canadian Jews define themselves being of Ashkenazi ancestry (from Western Europe and Eastern Europe), and one in ten being of Sephardi or Mizrachi ancestry (from Southern Europe and the Middle East).
Antisemitism continues to persist in Canada, manifesting itself through:
vandalism and graffiti
circulation of hate propaganda
intolerant and racist language in places like Twitter, in comments sections, web forums and blogs
bomb threats to Jewish schools and community centers
intimidation of Jewish university students; and
the use of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to delegitimize the State of Israel.
Canada has been a member of International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) since 2009. IHRA is an intergovernmental organization devoted to combatting antisemitism and promoting Holocaust education, remembrance and research. In May 2012, a domestic advisory council was established, co-chaired by Dr. Mario Silva and Senator Linda Frum, to provide support and advice on domestic initiatives for the duration of the Chair Year. From March 5, 2013, to February 25, 2014, Dr. Silva chaired IHRA on behalf of Canada.
In March 2018, the Canadian Jewish Heritage Month Act was passed, recognizing the significant contributions of the Canadian Jewish community and declaring the month of May as “Canadian Jewish Heritage Month”.
On November 7, 2018, the Prime Minister delivered a formal apology in the House of Commons for the fate of the passengers of the MS St. Louis. The Prime Minister apologized for the antisemitic, ‘none is too many’ immigration policy that led to the incident. He also apologized to the Jews who were falsely imprisoned during the Second World War.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, released a report on antisemitism [PDF version, 395 kb]in 2019. Regarding Canada, he notes with concern the increased hostility on campus against Jewish students, and Jewish student organizations (paragraph 23), the incidents of hate crimes (paragraph 28), antisemitic posts on social media (paragraph 36), and the adoption of Bill 21 by the government of Quebec (paragraph 45).
The Covid-19 pandemic has become a vehicle for antisemitism and anti-Zionist propaganda that accuses Jews and Israel of either causing the virus or standing to benefit from it. In April 2020, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief issued a call to action to confront Covid-19-related antisemitism.
Escalation of violence in the Middle East has typically given rise to a corresponding increase in antisemitism in Canada and around the world.
Data and Evidence
Police-reported hate crime data indicates that there were 608 hate crimes targeting religion as of May 2021. Of that number, 296 were incidents targeting the Jewish population, which represents a 20% decrease from the 372 reported in 2018. These numbers increased slightly in 2020 from 306 to 321, with crimes against Black and Jewish Canadians remaining the most common at rates of 26% and 13% respectively. Jewish and Muslim Canadians are “the most frequent targets” of crimes against religious communities at 62% and 16% respectively.
In 2021, the B’nai Brith 2021 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents revealed a sixth consecutive year increase in antisemitic hate-crimes, a 7.2% increase in incidents, with 2,799 occurring in total of antisemitic hate crimes and incidents combined. The audit shows the growing mainstreaming, normalization, and legitimatization of antisemitism.
Current Government Initiatives
Canada adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism in 2019 as part of Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019-2022.
Since 2019 the Government of Canada has committed close to $100 million through Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy, including $70 million to support community organizations across Canada addressing issues of anti-racism and multiculturalism.
The Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat (ARSEC) is using the definition of antisemitism to ground its engagement with Jewish communities and its work to tackle antisemitism. For example, in its public statements, ARSEC mentions the definition and has used it in its public communications. To date, ARSEC has convened eight community-focused townhalls, including one with Jewish communities.
On November 2020, the Prime Minister named the Honourable Irwin Cotler as Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism. The strengthening of Canada’s implementation of IHRA definition of antisemitism is a core component of his mandate.
On April 8, 2021, Special Envoy Cotler was the keynote speaker at an event co-hosted by ARSEC and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council titled Addressing Antisemitism: The Roots, Impacts and Taking Action.
On May 12, 2021, Special Envoy Cotler addressed a meeting of the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Network of Officials Responsible for Multiculturalism, Inclusion and Anti-Racism (FPTORMIA) to advance the IHRA definition of antisemitism and discuss Holocaust education.
On July 21, 2021, the National Summit on Antisemitism was convened by Minister Chagger and Special Envoy Cotler to identify ways in which organizations, communities, individuals, and the federal government can work together to increase public awareness, enhance community security, combat misinformation and online hate, and identify new measures necessary to combat antisemitism.
In October 2021, the Prime Minister, Special Envoy Cotler, and a hybrid online and in-person delegation attended the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism – Remember-ReAct. Canada joined other countries in unveiling a series of “Country Pledges” to be implemented under the Swedish Presidency of the IHRA.
In November 2021, the Prime Minister renewed Special Envoy Cotler’s mandate as Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism and appointed him the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor on Antisemitism.
On May 26, 2022, Special Envoy Cotler attended and participated in the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat’s inaugural Jewish Heritage Month event titled Recognizing and Countering Holocaust Distortion and Denial.
In June 2022, Canada sent a delegation to Stockholm, Sweden to participate in the first in-person plenary meeting since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. While present, Canada announced that it will double its annual contribution to the IHRA.
Budget 2022 committed $5.6M over five years, with $1.2M ongoing to support the Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.
Budget 2022 proposes to provide $20M in 2022-23 to PCH to support the construction of the new Holocaust Museum in Montréal; and an investment of $2.5M for the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, which has been approved through the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund and Museum Assistance Program. Additional support will be provided to the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver.
Anti-Racism Strategy Grants and Contributions Funding
Within the Anti-Racism Strategy there is $30 million in community funding that is being delivered by Canadian Heritage through two grants & contributions programs: Community Support, Multiculturalism & Anti-Racism Initiatives (CSMARI) and a new Anti-Racism Action Program (ARAP).
ARAP is intended to help address barriers to employment, justice, and social participation for Indigenous People, racialized communities, and religious minorities, and it has prioritized the funding of projects that target online hate or promote digital literacy.
The Building Awareness and Changing Attitudes component of the Anti-Racism Strategy includes $0.9 million to support Public Safety Canada, address hate crimes and hate speech, in areas such as reporting, training and education, public awareness, media reporting, online policy research, building and synthesizing an evidence base and supporting new programs.
Disinformation and other online harms
Budget 2019 invested $19.4M over 4 years in the Digital Citizen Initiative (DCI) to counter online disinformation, understand the origin and spread of online disinformation, and build citizen resilience to it. Through various calls for proposals, funding has gone to projects attempting to understand the origins and spread of online disinformation targeting specific communities, including racialized communities.
As part of the Government of Canada’s $500M temporary Emergency Support Fund to Cultural, Heritage and Sport Organizations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government invested $4.5M through the Digital Citizen Contribution Program (DCCP) in activities such as training, awareness-raising activities, and tools to help Canadians critically assess what they see online. These activities included awareness campaigns to address COVID-19 related online disinformation that targeted Chinese communities in Canada.
While Canada recognises the revolutionary and often positive impact of the internet and connective technologies on multiple aspects of human existence, we reject outright the negative impact of online hate and abuse on individuals and communities at home and around the world.
While freedoms of speech and protest are essential pillars of all democracies, nothing can justify such hate speech.
Canada is not immune to hate – and we will not shy away from confronting difficult issues. We cannot afford to. We must keep learning if we are to make progress.
Regrettably, antisemitism persists in Canada in various forms. Despite representing less than 1% of the Canadian population, Jews are the religious group in Canada most likely to be targeted for hate crimes.
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