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Synagogues told 'be vigilant' after Texas hostage siege; Toronto police boost patrols

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OTTAWA — Jewish community leaders have advised Canadian synagogues to increase their level of vigilance in case of a copycat attack following a hostage taking at a Texas synagogue this weekend. 

Police in Canadian cities including Toronto have also increased patrols around synagogues and other Jewish community buildings, although they have said there is currently no known threat.

B’nai Brith, which monitors antisemitism and advises the Jewish community on security, has advised Jewish institutions to take extra precautions.

"We take seriously the possibility of copycat acts of violence," said Michael Mostyn, chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada, adding that Jewish Canadians face disproportionately high rates of hate crimes.

The daylong siege at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, ended on Saturday night after U.S. federal agents stormed the temple. The hostage taker, whom it later emerged was a British national, was shot and killed. 

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told CBS News how he and three others were held captive by the gun-wielding hostage taker while they were praying. The rabbi described how eventually he threw a chair at the gunman and managed to escape with two other hostages.

The rabbi said that during the ordeal, he recalled active-shooter drills he and members of his congregation had taken from the Colleyville Police Department and the FBI advising that when your life is under threat you need to do all you can to escape. 

Canadian Jewish community leaders spoke this weekend with Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino about security for members of the community.

Mendicino reminded Jewish leaders that synagogues, schools and other community institutions would be eligible for funds from the federal government's security infrastructure program to "protect themselves." 

The funds can pay to enhance security including to doors and windows. It includes up to $10,000 for basic staff training in response to hate-crime incidents.

Mendicino said during the calls he had expressed "grave concern" and reiterated "our unwavering support."

"Canada's Jewish community should always feel safe no matter where they are — but especially in a synagogue," Mendicino said. "At the request of local communities, municipal police have increased surveillance in several cities across Canada. At this difficult moment we must redouble our efforts to fight antisemitism and all forms of hate." 

The minister's office said Toronto, Ottawa and Edmonton were among the cities where police had increased patrols near Jewish buildings.

Richard Marceau, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said it was "reassured by the serious manner in which (Mendicino) is following things, along with a pledge to work with us to explore all measures to enhance security for Jewish community and all at risk communities"

He added: "We are also in continual contact with Canadian law enforcement at all levels." 

A report by the Toronto police's hate crime unit found that in 2020 Jews were the most targeted group, ahead of Black, LGBTQ and Chinese Canadian communities. 

In 2019, Jews were the victims of nearly half of police-reported hate crimes motivated by religion, more than any other religious group, according to Statistics Canada.

York police are investigating antisemitic graffiti scrawled this month in a park in Markham. The graffiti, which has been removed, shows the image of a Nazi salute and is being investigated by a hate crime officer. 

Markham MP Mary Ng, the international trade minister, has condemned the graffiti on Twitter.  

Nearby Spadina Fort York MP Kevin Vuong has also publicly condemned the antisemitic graffiti. He said antisemitism was a particular problem in the Greater Toronto Area, alongside anti-Asian hatred, both of which have seen a recent upsurge. 

"It is important the we should stand together to speak out," he said. 

"These actions are completely unacceptable and cannot be tolerated," a spokeswoman for the city of Markham said in a statement. "As a city we are steadfast in standing up and speaking out against all forms of hate and hateful messaging."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2022. 

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press