TORONTO — Anti-Semitism is on the rise in the country, a Jewish advocacy group said Tuesday, calling it a "made in Canada" phenomenon.
B'nai Brith Canada, which has been tracking anti-Semitic incidents for 35 years, said 1,728 anti-Semitic incidents were reported across the country last year — a 26 per cent increase from 2015 and the highest number the group has ever recorded.
"That means an average of four to five incidents of anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism or violence occurring every day in our country, a country where we pride ourselves as being one of the most tolerant in the world," said the group's CEO Michael Mostyn.
The numbers, included in the group's 2016 report that was released Tuesday, were based on phone calls to their anti-hate hotline and police data.
Amanda Hohmann, national director of B'nai Brith Canada's League for Human Rights, said the organization believes Canadian anti-Semitism is not a U.S. import.
"While some have sought to link the global increase in anti-Semitism to November's presidential election in the United States, it's worth noting that the months of September through December actually saw a relative decrease in anti-Semitic incidents in Canada, in relation to previous years," Hohmann said.
Twenty per cent of the incidents involved Holocaust denial, a sharp increase from five per cent in 2015, she said.
"Unfortunately, Holocaust denial is no longer only coming from its traditional home in the extreme right," Hohmann said. "More and more, Islamist extremists are also co-opting this position and spreading the rhetoric of denial, especially within Arab-language media right here in Canada."
Mostyn listed a number of examples, including that of the al-Saraha newspaper in London, Ont., which published a report last summer that Mostyn said simultaneously denied the scope of the Holocaust and argued that any slaughter of Jews by the Nazi regime was justified.
He said the paper was initially promoted as recommended reading by a local government-funded immigrant settlement organization. It was condemned by Ontario government officials who had taken out advertisements in the paper after B'nai Brith brought it to their attention.
Barbara Perry, a University of Ontario Institute of Technology professor who studies hate crimes, said she considers a rise in anti-Semitic events in Canada as part of an increase many kinds of hatred across the Western world, which has also fuelled the rise of far-right political parties.
"It's really a form of othering across the board, and the Jewish community is one of many targets," she said.
In particular, anti-Semitism in Arabic-language media in Canada likely has its roots in global conflicts, Perry said.
Perry said Canada has also long had anti-Semitism of its own, traditionally focused on Jewish communities in Toronto and Montreal, which has combined with a global movement to create "a perfect storm."
B'nai Brith Canada credits Arabic speakers with bringing these incidents to the group's attention, but Mostyn said it was troubling that only a single Arabic speaker came forward with information in each case.
Of the 1,728 incidents reported last year, 490 occurred in Ontario, 249 in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, 121 in Alberta and British Columbia, and 74 in the Prairies. The number of incidents in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces dropped, proportionally, and Alberta and B.C. saw increases. The prairie provinces also saw an increase in incidents, but B'nai Brith Canada attributes that to increased awareness of the anti-hate hotline.
Eleven of the incidents were violent, 158 were vandalism and the remainder were classified as harassment, which includes social media posts, according to the report.
The publisher of al-Saraha didn't respond to requests for comment Tuesday. When B'nai Brith first raised the issue last July, Abdul Haidi Shala apologized and told the London Free Press he and he had picked up the article from an Egyptian daily newspaper.
"I didn't mean to reject something that happened historically," Abdul Haidi Shala, told the Free Press. "I was curious to know why Hitler killed Jews during the Holocaust, so I read through his article and I found information."