Canada – Series of anti-Semitic vandalism and Chabad’s challenging building project

Quebec, Canada – Two reports but one common theme?

B’nai Brith of Canada is struggling with the seemingly hapless police in city of Laval regarding a spate of anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on a number of houses, cars and on the walls of a park chalet in the Laval-des-Rapides district.

bnai-brith-urges-laval-police-to-investi_1“It seems like the police were brushing this off as some teenage vandals,” Harvey Levine, executive director of B’nai Brith Canada, Quebec region, told the Montreal Gazette.

“But from the type of graffiti that we’ve seen – the SS symbols – this wasn’t just some teenagers spending an afternoon spraying graffiti. It’s up to the Laval police to investigate this more seriously as a hate crime rather than as an act of vandalism.”

Police reported a total of 13 acts of anti-Semitic graffiti – including swastikas – that were sprayed on the night of March 28 to the early morning hours of March 29.

Among the graffiti were the numbers 14/88 – an anti-Semitic code used by white supremacists and neo-Nazis – as well as a crossed-out Star of David.

Lt. Geneviève Villeneuve, of the Laval Police public-affairs department, said on Monday that investigators have no suspects.

“We have zero hypotheses,” Villeneuve added. “There were no cameras or witnesses. All we know is that there were 13 graffiti in different places.”

Asked whether police were investigating this as vandalism or as a hate crime, she responded: “All this is being studied at the same time to determine whether it’s a hate crime or not.”

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Montreal a real estate developer who wants to demolish a former church in Notre Dame de Grâce and build houses on the site while allowing a Chabad centre to remain in the adjoining hall, thinks prejudice is motivating many of the project’s opponents.

Robert Blatt, one of the site owners, told The CJN that in a year of public consultation, he has received many calls and emails about the project, and the majority have questioned whether the proposed seven single-family dwellings will be reserved for members of the Chabad-Lubavitch community.

Blatt said the inquirers give the impression they don’t want that to happen.

He said opponents have repeatedly brought up the same concern at the monthly borough council meetings. Blatt believes opponents’ claims that they are only concerned with preserving a building for its heritage value, or with keeping it for community use, do not tell the whole story.

“That the Jewish element should be brought into this, that they object to the presence of a Jewish organization, is extremely upsetting,” he said. “And this is in a community that prides itself on its multicultural character.”

Blatt said there is no deal between the developers and Chabad that would give it priority to purchase the homes. He said the houses would be on the open market.

Blatt recalled that at a public consultation meeting last October, a man-made a Nazi salute and yelled “Heil Copeman” after borough mayor Russell Copeman responded positively to a Chabad Rabbi’s vow to address complaints about noise that were made by several people there.

At its next meeting on May 2, the council is expected to decide whether to hold a referendum or rescind the planning approval that would have allowed the project to go ahead.

The Chabad centre has been occupying the hall since September 2013. The NDG Chabad moved to the former church as it has steadily become more popular. 

Rabbi Yisroel Bernath
Rabbi Yisroel Bernath

Its founder and director Rabbi Yisroel Bernath said a much larger space – and ideally one of its own – was needed to accommodate the increasing number of participants in its services and activities, many of them young professionals and families, as well as students from Concordia University’s Loyola campus. 

During the centre’s 2-1/2 years at the former church site, Rabbi Bernath has said he has received complaints from neighbours about noise. He is not certain that all were founded, and fears anti-Semitism may be behind some of them.

The church, which was deconsecrated in 2012, did have a designation of heritage interest from the City of Montreal, but at the lowest level on its rating scale. That value was judged less on architectural merit, than on the congregation’s history in the neighbourhood.

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