Holocaust Denial Drives anti-Semitic Incidents in Canada to Record Number, Report Says

B’nai B’rith Canada report tracks incidents of harassment, vandalism and violence against Jews and Jewish institutions

A man waving a Canadian flag in Vancouver, British Columbia, February 2017.
A man waving a Canadian flag in Vancouver, British Columbia, February 2017. There was a 26 percent spike in anti-Semitic incidents in 2016. Ben Nelms/AP

2016 was the worst year on record for anti-Semitism in Canada, according to the latest report of an organization that tracks incidents of harassment, vandalism and violence against Jews and Jewish institutions in the country.

The annual B’nai Brith Canada audit of anti-Semitic incidents, published on Tuesday, found that the number of recorded complaints rose 26 percent last year to total 1,728, the vast majority related to harassment.

About 20 percent of all anti-Semitic incidents reported in Canada in 2016 were related to Holocaust denial, compared with only 5 percent in 2015. “What was once a fringe belief held only by those on the margins of society is now being positioned as a legitimate source of debate and discussion, even in academic circles,” the report said.

Unlike the situation in the United States, the spike in Canada was unconnected to anti-Jewish sentiments unleashed by the presidential election in the United States. In fact, according to the organization’s annual report published Tuesday, the number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in Canada actually took a dip around the time of the U.S. election in November.

“The dominant rhetoric in the press and social media is that the election of U.S. President Donald Trump resulted in a surge of anti-Semitism almost overnight,” the report stated. “While this makes a good sound bite, it’s not based in fact. And as our longitudinal data shows, anti-Semitism has actually been on the rise for over a decade – and over the past five years, dramatically so.”

Although incidents of harassment were dramatically up, those falling into the categories of vandalism and violence were down compared with average levels in recent years.

The report attributes this phenomenon to the rise of social media-based incidents of anti-Semitism. “Such online platforms have become more accessible and convenient outlets to express anti-Semitism, rather than engaging in physical or ‘hard-copy-type’ incidents of vandalism,” it noted.

B’nai B’rith Canada’s key mandate is monitoring anti-Semitism in that country. In this respect, it serves a similar function to the Anti-Defamation League in the United States.

Last month, the ADL published its annual audit, which found a 41 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States during 2016 – most of them concentrated in the last two months of the year, following the election.

Unlike its Canadian equivalent, the ADL report also included updated figures for the first quarter of 2017. These figures pointed to an 86 percent spike in anti-Semitic incidents compared with the corresponding period last year. Most of the quarterly increase, however, was related to a wave of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers, which are now believed to have been carried out by a Jewish Israeli with U.S. citizenship who has since been indicted.

Six bomb threats have also been made this year against Jewish Community Centers in Canada, but they are not reflected in the 2016 audit.

As in the United States, college campuses in Canada have long been considered a hotbed of anti-Semitism. But whereas the number of incidents of anti-Semitism on U.S. campuses showed no growth whatsoever last year, a significant increase was registered in Canada, the B’nai B’rith report said.

As in previous years, Jews and Jewish institutions in the province of Ontario – home to Canada’s largest Jewish community – were the main targets of anti-Semitism.