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SPVM’s hate crime unit investigating after Westmount , Que., synagogue defaced by swastikas

Swatstikas were spray painted on the doors of a synagogue in Westmount. Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Rabbi Adam Scheier/

A 28-year-old man is in police custody following an act of vandalism at a synagogue in Westmount.

In a letter sent out to members of the Shaar Hashomayim Congregation, synagogue officials said a man spray-painted swastikas on the doors of the building.

“He drove up to the synagogue and parked across the street, came out of his car holding a canister of gasoline and a can of spray paint,” said Shaar Hashomayim Rabbi Adam Scheier.

“He took out the spray paint and proceeded to spray swastikas, the symbol of Nazi Germany but unfortunately the seemingly eternal symbol of hatred of Jews and death to the Jews.”

It was the synagogue’s security guard, Alex Kuczma, who first spotted the man on surveillance cameras and quickly intervened.

“(He) immediately went to apprehended (sic) the perpetrator,” officials wrote. “Alex then called for help, and within a short time the police arrived and arrested the man.”

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Montreal police (SPVM) spokesperson, Raphael Bergeron, said officers were called to the synagogue at around 1:30 p.m.

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The incident is being investigated by the SPVM’s hate crime unit, but Bergeron said they believe the suspect could be suffering from mental health issues.

He is being detained until his court appearance scheduled for Thursday and police are asking for a psychiatric evaluation.

Bergeron would not confirm reports the man was carrying a gas canister.

Harvey Levine, Quebec regional director of B’nai Brith Canada said the organization will be following up with the hate crimes unit.

“We hope that the individual hopefully will be charged to the full extent of the law for a hate-motivated crime,” he said.

“It’s disgusting and our organization is horrified. Every time there is an incident like this when the Jewish community is attacked like this, we feel like we are attacked as a community.”

While the graffiti was quickly removed from the synagogue doors, the incident has left many shocked and angered.

“When I saw it, my heart dropped,” said Scheier. “It was like a punch in the gut — an absolute moment of devastation.”

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Westmount Mayor Christina Smith posted a message on Twitter condemning “this abhorrent act.”

She said she’s heartbroken by what happened and that “the symbols of hate and evil that were spray painted on the Shaar Hashomayim have no place in our community.”

In a written statement, Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) Québec, described the vandalism as a “vile assault.”

“This attack targets the entire community and all those who embrace civility and tolerance,” he said.

Both Poupko and Scheier pointed to the role that social media can play in propagating hate and provoking violence.

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“The Jewish community calls on government and social media to redouble their efforts to monitor and halt this propagation of online antisemitism and bigotry,” Poupko said.

Read more: Incidents of anti-semitism increasing online in Canada, says B’Nai Brith

Scheier said he’s received various phone calls from members of the community, religious leaders of all denominations and faiths as well as political leaders of various stripes.

The show of solidarity has left him feeling hopeful.

“It’s really been a very beautiful outpouring of love and support,” he said. “I don’t want that to get lost in the darkness of the hate.”

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In a tweet Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the news “despicable.”

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“I condemn this vile act in the strongest terms possible and stand united with Congregation @ShaarHashomayim, Rabbi @AdamScheier and Jewish Canadians across the country,” he wrote.

“We must always denounce antisemitic hate, no matter when or where it arises.”

-With a file from Hannah Jackson