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Public safety concerns mount in Canada as Israel-Hamas war intensifies

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Public safety ministers and law enforcement officials say they're taking public safety seriously amid a growing sense of unrest in Canada related to the Israel-Hamas war.

In a joint statement issued earlier this week, federal, provincial and territorial ministers urged "unity and respect in the face of calls for protests" on Friday from Hamas, which they emphasized the Canadian government labels a terrorist organization.

The statement followed a reported call by former Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal for a global day of protest on Friday against Israel.

"Canadians have the right to feel safe to practise their faith and express their beliefs," the statement reads. "There is no place for supporting terrorism or advocating for violence in Canada."

CONCERN AMONG MUSLIM, JEWISH COMMUNITIES

Both Muslim and Jewish organizations across the country have expressed concern throughout the week about the looming risk of hate crimes, leading to heightened security at some synagogues, mosques, schools and community centres as of Friday.

On Wednesday, police in Toronto launched an investigation after a man allegedly painted "hate symbols" on the front of a mosque in the city's east end.

On Thursday, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) reported that it has received double the usual number of complaints about Islamophobic incidents in recent days, including about an alleged incident against the relative of NCCM's Quebec advocacy officer, Yasser Lahlou.

"There is no room for hate in #Canada. It is time for our officials to show real leadership by making sure that no form of hatred, including #Islamophobia, is allowed to grow in our communities," reads a statement by NCCM on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

"It is time to speak up, it is time to condemn hate."

That same day, the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) Greater Toronto Federation announced it was working with police and its national security partners at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs to monitor English, Arabic and Farsi media and social media for any information about potential threats to the Jewish community in Canada.

"We ask for the community to exercise a heightened degree of healthy vigilance and situational awareness," a statement published by UJA Toronto reads. "Extra attention should be paid by Jewish institutions to ensuring all security protocols are being followed, particularly regarding access controls and doors that should remain locked."

Also on Thursday, Toronto police said they were investigating an incident at a Toronto Hebrew school that occurred less than an hour after the police force announced an increased presence in the city due to “global online threats."

In a post to X, formerly Twitter, police said they received a report that three male suspects had attended the Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto in the city’s north end and were asked to leave by security. The incident is being investigated as a hate crime, police said.

Montreal's Jewish General Hospital asked staff to postpone all non-essential out-patient appointments that were scheduled for Friday in response to heightened public safety concerns.

"We will encourage all non-essential work to be postponed or done from home. Access to the indoor parking will be closed to patients," the hospital told staff in a memo obtained by CTV News.

The RCMP, provincial and regional police have stepped up patrols in many regions across the country in recent days to monitor and respond to any potential fallout from the war.

On Friday morning, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) said it was aware of "global online threats of violence regarding the situation in the Middle East," and monitoring closely for signs of any situation that could impact public safety in Ontario.

"The OPP understands that members within our communities are deeply affected by this ongoing conflict," reads a statement published by the OPP on Friday. "We have increased police patrols and presence in areas of cultural and religious significance and will maintain open lines of communication with community leaders."

The Toronto Police Service has set up command posts throughout the Greater Toronto Area and increased visibility in places where Jewish or Muslim community members might feel unsafe.

"Our communities have been very, very clear that they are concerned for their feelings of safety and their sense of safety," said Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw in a media conference on Friday. "And we want to be present in ensuring that our communities not only are safe, but we need them to feel safe. There will be intolerance for any forms of hate or intimidation."

RISING TENSIONS

Tensions in the Middle East and around the world appear to be rising as the Israeli-Hamas war intensifies.

The Israeli government declared war on Hamas earlier this week after Hamas militants from Gaza launched a surprise attack on Israel last Saturday, killing more than 1,300 civilians and military personnel and taking 150 hostages. Since then, the Israeli Defense Forces have hammered Gaza with air strikes, levelling entire neighbourhoods.

So far, the war has resulted in the deaths of at least 2,800 people on both sides.

As Palestinian suffering mounted on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to "crush and destroy" Hamas. "Every Hamas member is a dead man," he said in a televised address.

The Gaza Health Ministry said Friday that roughly 1,800 people have been killed in the territory — more than half of them under the age of 18 or women. The Israeli government has also sealed off the territory, preventing Palestinians from leaving Gaza and aid from entering it and vowing to starve the region of electricity and fuel until the hostages taken by Hamas are returned to Israel.

Amid a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza on Friday morning, Israeli military urged 1.1 million civilians in Gaza's north — where it planned to target Hamas military structures — to move south, a move that the Associated Press reports would concentrate Gaza's entire population into half of the 40-kilometre long strip.

In a media release issued on Friday, NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Heather McPherson condemned both calls to action by Hamas and Israel's reported efforts to displace 1.1 million Gazans.

"New Democrats continue to call for immediate release of all hostages, the protection of all civilians, an end to the siege and bombardment of Gaza, and for humanitarian aid to reach civilians urgently and without restriction," the statement reads.

"We condemn all acts of antisemitism and all anti-Palestinian racism including any glorification or calls for the killing of innocent people, Israeli or Palestinian."

– With files from The Associated Press 

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