Vancouver Muslim, Jewish communities boost security amid hate concerns
“The North American Jewish community feels more vulnerable today than it has in generations,” says Nico Slobinsky, the regional director of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
At a recent presentation at the Jewish Community Centre in Vancouver, Slobinsky noted Canada is “not immune” to global trends of anti-Semitism, noting that based on Statistics Canada data, an anti-Semitic incident was reported to police every 24 hours in Canada in 2017.
That data shows the number of hate crimes increased by 47 per cent from 2014 to 2017, a change felt also in Vancouver, where Jews and Muslims were the most common targets.
Musa Ismail, a longtime Muslim community leader, says it’s part of a global phenomenon of attacks against holy sites, like recent shootings at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand and at a synagogue in San Diego.
“We are all being attacked. There are churches being attacked. My Jewish brothers are being attacked,” he says.
Ismail says he’s worked with police forces for nearly a decade to build trust and improve security at large events.
But faith leaders say recent events have them on edge.
Mohammed Shujaath Ali, an imam at the Masjid-ul Haqq mosque, has been in Vancouver for more than a decade and says he’s noticed increased hostility towards his family and his congregation.
“The recent Christchurch incident has definitely escalated the fear for Muslims to even come to the mosque and pray peacefully and feel secure in their place of worship,” he says.
Dan Moskovitz, the senior rabbi at Temple Sholom, says his congregation has doubled security, but he still worries for the safety of his community.
“To be honest, I still look out from the pulpit every Friday night and Saturday morning, and If I don’t recognize somebody, I look a little extra closely,” he says.
B.C. RCMP’s hate crimes unit, which services areas outside of Vancouver and Victoria, has responded by doing more regular outreach to vulnerable communities to help report crimes and improve safety.
“One of the people that we went to told us we’ve probably been to more mosques than many Muslims,” said Const. Gareth Blount.
The unit’s services include supporting detachments that don’t have their own hate crime units investigate incidents.
They say one of the most effective ways to combat hate crimes is by reporting every incident so that police can better track racist attacks.
“One thing we know for certain about hate-motivated criminality is that it’s horrifically underreported,” says Cpl. Anthony Statham.
Vancouver police conduct similar visits, something communities say they welcome.
“The last couple of years particularly, police has recognized that our community is vulnerable,” says Bernard Pinsky, chair of the community security advisory committee at the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
In 2015 the federation went to the extraordinary step of hiring a full-time security consultant to improve security across the more than 60 Jewish temples, charities and organizations in Vancouver.
“Parents would stop sending their children there because they were worried,” he explains.
Those measures include hiring private security, running active shooter drills and even installing panic buttons, something Pinsky says comes at no small price.
“We’re trying to do the best on our own, but we don’t have the resources.” he says.” It’s a line item that never used to exist.”
Ali says police recommended he install more security measures at his mosque, but he’s worried about obstructing entry to a public place of worship.
Moskovitz says money spent on security also means less for the congregation’s actual purpose.
“Every dollar we spend on security is a dollar we can’t spend on education, outreach, refugee resettlement … that’s what we want to spend the money on,” he explains.
The federal government offers a $3-million annual matching grant to help places of worship improve their security, but Pinsky says most of the money has to come out of the community’s pocket.
He says education and increased awareness about the extent of hate crime should be a priority for governments moving forward.
Ali says Islamophobia is often rooted in misconceptions about the Muslim community that he wants to dismantle. He thinks education and mutual understanding are key to ending the root of hate crimes.
“We are part of your community — we are as you are,” he says “We are a part of you, and you are part of us. Islam sees humanity as one family.”
Moskovitz says a silver lining of the rise of hate crimes are that communities and faiths are more united than ever. He notes substantial Muslim participation at a recent vigil for the victims of last October’s Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
“Where they tried to silence us its had the opposite effect,” he says. “It’s brought out community closer together and built incredible bridges between different communities that never existed before.”
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