Police Chief Adam Palmer revealed Thursday that his officers thwarted several “active shooter” attacks in Vancouver over the years but none was related to the Jewish community.
Palmer broke the news to reporters after a Vancouver Police Board meeting at the Jewish Community Centre, where the audience heard that Jewish people are consistently targeted more for hate crimes than any other group in the city.
“We follow up on threats very quickly, and there have been a number of threats for active shooter type situations — not related to the Jewish community — but related to other places in Vancouver over the years that we have proactively stopped,” the chief told reporters.
“Quite often the media will not hear about those things. You only hear about it when a tragedy happens, but we have thwarted several attempts in our city.”
Palmer said police conduct “active shooter” drills and run evacuation and lockdown exercises at various sites around the city. He didn’t say which ones, but noted the Jewish community requested extra training.
The chief said such training, which includes a video showing people how to run, hide and fight, assists the Jewish community but also gets officers familiar with a facility in case they have to respond to an emergency.
“There is no specific threat against the Jewish community or anybody else in Vancouver right now,” he said.
“Having said that, we do have a moderate threat level in Canada for terrorism generally since the attacks that happened in Ottawa [in 2014].”
In a presentation to the police board, Det. Const. Jacquie Abbott, the VPD’s hate crimes investigator, said hate crimes and hate crime incidents increased from 61 in 2016 to 141 in 2018.
Abbott said hate crimes are “significantly underreported,” but the types of crimes or incidents most commonly investigated are related to graffiti, harassment, assaults and suspicious circumstances.
The most targeted populations are Jewish, Muslim, LGBTQ2S+, Asian and black people, she added.
Statistics posted to the VPD’s website May 31 related to hate crimes, which were reported in the Courier earlier this week, did not include statistics for hate crime incidents.
An example of a hate crime incident would be a person making hateful comments but not accompanied by a crime such as an assault. Such an incident is considered by police as a “non-criminal action.”
Combining hate crimes and hate crime incidents is what Abbott did in her presentation to reveal even a higher rate of hate directed at various communities in Vancouver.
A hate crime is a criminal offence committed against a person or property motivated by the suspect or suspects’ hate, prejudice or bias against someone’s race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or any other similar factor.
A hate crime incident applies to the same motivation and identifiable group.
In the first quarter of this year, 20 hate crime or “themed incidents” were reported to Vancouver police. Vandalism and mischief accounted for 40 per cent of the cases.
Last year, Jewish people and property were the main target of hate crimes, followed by the LGTBQ2S+ and black communities. In the first quarter of this year, anti-Asian hate motivated incidents were as common as crimes and incidents in the LGTBQ2S+ community.
The anti-Semitic surge across Canada and across the globe, including recent shootings in Pittsburgh and San Diego, has caused the Jewish community to implement a series of security measures at its community centre and other sites in Vancouver.
That includes the training with VPD, the addition of security guards, cameras, panic buttons, upgrades to doors and locks and installing blast film for windows.
Some of the funding has come from a Justice Canada program for security infrastructure. Vancouver police officers have worked with the Jewish community to secure grants through the program.
Daniel Heydenrych, director of security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, said the community centre and approximately 14 agencies within the community have benefited from the funding.
“The program is very successful and we really benefit from the VPD’s support and partnership,” Heydenrych told the board, noting his position was created in 2017.
Nico Slobinsky, director of the Pacific Region for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said there is no other community centre in Vancouver that has such a high level of security.
Slobinsky told the board of the good working relationship his agency has with the VPD but urged the community to remain vigilant in what he described as the “distressing rise in anti-Semitism globally.”
Slobinsky was born and raised in Argentina, where in his home city of Buenos Aires in 1994, a Jewish community centre was bombed. A total of 85 people were killed and more than 300 people injured.
Slobinsky said his father spent hours at the scene, along with others, searching through the rubble for survivors.
“Families were shattered,” he said. “The Argentinian Jewish community — the sixth largest in the world — was changed forever. And so were the lives of its members.”
Slobinsky said the Jewish community is not immune to such level of hate, noting an anti-Semitic hate crime takes place once every 24 hours in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.
“Let that number sink in for a moment,” he said.