Hamilton

Hamilton Jewish community spent $200K on security but members still afraid, says federation president

A Hamilton Jewish community group has spent over $200,000 to have off-duty police guard schools and synagogues since the conflict in Gaza began. That’s unsustainable, says Jason Waxman, president of the Hamilton Jewish Federation. The Muslim Association of Hamilton says there has been a need for increased patrols for their community as well.

Hamilton police say they have increased patrols around religious institutions

A close portrait of a bearded man in a suit jacket
Jason Waxman, president of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, is calling for greater police protection for the local Jewish community. (Submitted by Jason Waxman)

A Jewish group in Hamilton is asking police to provide protection services at no cost to the group, after spending over $200,000 to have off-duty police guard schools and synagogues since Oct. 7.

The services have been required because of the fear community members have for their safety since the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas began.

Police are providing special attention to places of worship and religious schools, police Chief Frank Bergen said last month, for both Jewish and Muslim spaces in the city. 

But the cost to pay for additional support is unsustainable, said Jason Waxman, president of the Hamilton Jewish Federation (HJF).

"Parents don't feel safe sending their kids to school without police there," he told CBC Hamilton recently. 

Javid Mirza, president of the Muslim Association of Hamilton (MAH), said police have increased patrols at the Mountain Mosque as well but the association will turn to community members if they need additional support. 

Community reporting more incidences of hate

As CBC Hamilton recently reported, Hamilton police logged 26 hate crimes and incidents between Oct. 7, 2023 and Jan. 12, with 21 targeting the Jewish community and five targeting the Muslim community. Those include bomb threats, graffiti and threats.

That number, over a three month period, is already half as many antisemitic occurrences and the same number of anti-Muslim occurrences as in all of 2022, when comparing police data. 

The Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion and the Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre launched an online reporting tool in 2023 for community members who do not feel comfortable reporting hate crimes to the police. 

Lyndon George, who directs the anti-racism centre, recently told CBC Hamilton that because the tool is new, the data is not yet available. However, since Oct. 7, his team has seen "concerning antisemitic, Islamophobic, and anti-Palestinian incidents related to the ongoing war in Gaza and Israel," both online and in the community, he said. 

WATCH | Jason Waxman says antisemitism is 'alive and well'

'Antisemitism is alive and well,' Jason Waxman says

4 months ago
Duration 1:05
Although he says he never experienced it growing up, Jason Waxman said the hate he's seen since the conflict in Gaza began has taught him antisemitism is alive and well.

Waxman told CBC Hamilton that he didn't experience antisemitism growing up in the city, though he knew his parents and grandparents had. But since Hamas's attack on Israel and the subsequent Israeli bombardment of Gaza, Waxman says antisemitism has been a pressing and costly concern in Hamilton's small Jewish community.

Considering Hamilton's Jewish community is about 5,000 strong, that's a lot of hate per capita, Waxman says. And, he adds, data on police-reported hate going back to 2017 shows Jewish people have consistently been the most targeted religious group in the city.

"I think that the sobering reality is that antisemitism is alive and well and and and we have to adjust accordingly."

Armed police are better deterrent, says Waxman

On Jan. 25, Waxman told Hamilton's police board community members have received threatening phone calls and that two HJF staffers have received death threats.

He said the federation realizes the significance of asking police for more protection during tough economic times. However, he added: "These are extraordinary times and we require an extraordinary response to ensure our safety. Our physical sense of safety should not fall solely on our shoulders."

Waxman said that the HJF raised almost $600,000 since Oct. 7 from within the community for other security measures including fencing, cameras, concrete fixtures to prevent car ramming, and bullet-proof vests for volunteer security. 

He told CBC Hamilton that although hiring private security would likely be cheaper than hiring off-duty police, security guards are not armed.

"That seems to be the major deterrent with a lot of incidents that could potentially occur and that's why people really feel the need to have police presence."

He said he has not heard from anyone uncomfortable with having armed officers around.

WATCH | When police showed up late for school drop off one day, parents panicked, Waxman said

Jason Waxman says many parents don't want their kids to go to school without an officer present

4 months ago
Duration 0:37
One morning, Jason Waxman says, the police officer guarding a Jewish day school was 15 minutes late. Parents were panicked and many kept their kids home that day, he said.

Mayor 'hoping to advance' the conversation

The Hamilton police website shows it costs about $320 to hire one police constable for a minimum of three hours. Adding a vehicle such as a police car costs more, and for some assignments, police say more than one officer may be required.

Waxman made the request at a police services board meeting on Jan. 25. Deputy chief Ryan Diodati told the board police have identified locations of concern they're keeping a close eye on, which they patrol around and check in on regularly. He also said police have been asked to do paperwork in the parking lots of those institutions.  

Waxman said Bergen "has been fantastic" and has sent more marked cruisers and patrols since the board meeting. 

Bergen said that the service is asking questions about how best it can meet demand in the city as part of the 2024 budget process.

On Jan. 30, councillors sent the proposed police budget for 2024 back to the board for review. 

A man sitting and talking into microphone.
Frank Bergen, centre, is chief of Hamilton police. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

CBC Hamilton requested an interview from Hamilton police on the topic, but did not receive a response before publication.

Mayor Andrea Horwath, who serves on the board, is working with chair Pat Mandy to raise Waxman's concerns as an item of discussion for an upcoming meeting, Horwath's deputy chief of staff Siri Agrell said.

That could potentially lead to actions for the board to take.

"She is hoping to advance a conversation that ensures appropriate, timely and consistent service standards in response to community groups facing increased levels of security risk," Agrell said.

Muslim community also working with police

Mirza, of the MAH, said he's also been in touch with police, who have increased patrols around the masjid (or mosque) on Hamilton Mountain since the conflict in Gaza started.

Police send a cruiser multiple times a week, for pick up and drop off times at the school connected to the masjid. The police cover that cost, he said. 

Events at the mosque, like a workshop held on Feb. 3 to support youth in starting up their own Muslim Students Association at their school, have also required police presence. 

Mirza previously told CBC about 40 per cent of the Muslim community in Hamilton is Arab, and of that group, about half are Palestinian and a quarter from the Gaza Strip.

A portrait of a man in a suit jacket in a mosque.
Javid Mirza is president of the Muslim Association of Hamilton. He says around 20 per cent of the city's Muslim community is Palestinian. (Justin Chandler/CBC)

He said for the last several years, the community has used private security at the mosque to help with traffic in the parking lot and watch over the space.

Mirza said hiring paid duty officers would be too costly and that if the mosque needed more security, leaders would ask the community to pitch in. 

He also encourages people who come to the mosque to keep an eye out for strangers and introduce themselves to new people to make sure they're on the level. 

When asked if he'd like police to assign more resources or cover the cost of paid duty officers, Mirza said he would feel "guilty" asking given all the other needs in the city.

"We have to make due with what's available," he said. 

He said there's no doubt people are reporting more hate these past few months, and he said he encourages everyone to report concerns to police. 

One of the best ways to fight hate is for people to get to know their neighbours, he said. 

"People who do hate-motivated crap are all cowards," he said, but if people get to know one another, they're less likely to do each other harm, even if they do fundamentally disagree.

"We're all human beings."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin Chandler is a CBC News reporter in Hamilton. He covers all sorts of stories but has a special interest in how public policy affects people. Justin covered current affairs in Hamilton and Niagara for TVO, and has worked on a variety of CBC teams and programs, including As It Happens, Day 6 and CBC Music. He co-hosted Radio Free Krypton on Met Radio. You can email story ideas to justin.chandler(at)cbc(dot)ca.

With files from Thomson Reuters