Israel-Hamas war: Quebec leaders call for calm after gunshots at Jewish schools

MONTREAL — After a wave of antisemitic violence in Montreal since the start of the Israel-Hamas war — including gunshots fired at two Jewish schools — political leaders on Thursday tried to calm emotions, and police said they would increase patrols.

Staff members at two schools in the city's Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood discovered bullet holes on the exterior of the buildings when they arrived Thursday morning, police said, adding that nobody was inside at the time of the shootings.

Outside Talmud Torah Elementary School, Megan Saleh said she had pulled her daughter out of class early. Saleh said she worried her child would be scared because many other students had also been taken home on Thursday.

"I think that the antisemitism that's growing is awful, and bigger organizations — government, schools, universities — they need to condemn violence of all forms," she said. "This is a kids school, it's too much."

The gunshots targeting Jewish schools were the latest in a series of crimes that have left Jews in the city on edge. During the night between Monday and Tuesday, two firebombings in the Montreal suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux caused minor damage to the front door of a synagogue and the back door of the nearby Federation CJA office. The city's Jewish leaders have also denounced antisemitic social media posts that they say are rampant.

Between Oct. 7 — the day of the Hamas incursion into Israel that killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians — and Nov. 7, there were 41 hate crimes targeting the city's Jewish community reported to police; another 14 hate crimes against Arabs or Muslims were reported. Israel's retaliatory strikes on the Palestinian Gaza Strip have killed more than 10,500 people, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Montreal police said in their annual report that there were 50 hate crimes in 2022 targeting people based on their religion.

Political leaders were quick to react to the shootings at Talmud Torah and Yeshiva Gedola of Montreal, which has a daycare, elementary and high school, as well as post-secondary programs.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in the Montreal suburb of Longueuil that Canadians must denounce violent antisemitism in the strongest terms. He said Canadians have a responsibility to be there for each other.

"Not to necessarily agree — our diversity includes diversity of perspectives and opinions — but not to hate, not to lash out with threats of violence, or actual violence against someone you disagree with."

Trudeau also condemned violent incidents at Montreal's Concordia University, where on Wednesday three people were injured and one person was arrested in an altercation tied to the Israel-Hamas war.

Speaking at the same news conference, Quebec Premier François Legault called on police forces to act. Asked if he would ban certain protests linked to the conflict, Legault said nothing has been ruled out. "What I hope is that people will continue to be able to express their opinion, but without calling for hate or violence."

Eta Yudin, Quebec vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, told a news conference later on Thursday there is a direct link between some pro-Palestinian demonstrations and acts targeting the Jewish community.

"These kinds of acts don't happen by chance," Yudin said. "Numerous hateful gatherings have taken place recently and the hateful speeches we have heard in our streets and universities only encourage these people to commit hateful acts."

Yair Szlak, president and CEO of Jewish advocacy organization Federation CJA, said a popular rally chant calling for a free Palestine between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea — home to both Israel and the Palestinian territories — was an example of what he considers hate speech.

"There's hate speech going on (at) every rally and we see it and hear it," he said.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante spoke directly to those who commit hateful and criminal acts: "You will answer for your actions," she said at a news conference. "This is not who we are here in Montreal, we will not accept it."

Montreal police said they will increase patrols around schools and houses of worship, adding that their investigation into the shootings at the Jewish schools was in its early stage.

Videos of the events at Concordia University shared on social media show people fighting over an Israeli flag; other footage shows pro-Palestinian activists yelling insults at Israel supporters. Montreal police say a 22-year-old woman was arrested at the university in connection with the altercation and released with a citation. They said none of the injuries was serious.

Hate crimes have not only risen in Montreal since Oct. 7. British Columbia's human rights commissioner said earlier this week that Vancouver police have reported 18 hate incidents aimed at the Jewish community in the last few weeks. The Toronto Police Service said there were 12 reports in October of antisemitic hate crimes and two anti-Muslim incidents, compared to a total of five hate crimes reported over the same period last year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2023.

— With files from Morgan Lowrie in Montreal.

Jacob Serebrin and Thomas MacDonald, The Canadian Press