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'This crossed the line': Toronto deputy mayor, councillor call on Ottawa to investigate arson at Jewish-owned North York deli as possible terrorist act

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Days after a Jewish-owned deli in North York was set on fire in a suspected hate crime, a Toronto deputy mayor and city councillor are calling on the federal government to investigate the incident as a possible act of terrorism.

“We're trying to emphasize the need to treat what happened here last week as an incredible escalation of what's happening in the city. An incredible tipping point,” Deputy Mayor Michael Colle said at a news conference Monday alongside Coun. James Pasternak, calling the arson an act of “hideous, targeted intimidation.”

“This crossed the line,” Colle said.

The fire at International Delicatessen Foods, located near Steeles Avenue and Keele Street, broke out early Wednesday morning. The fire was extinguished and no injuries were reported. The words “Free Palestine” were seen spray-painted on the outside of the building.

Toronto police confirmed last week that the incident is being investigated as a suspected hate-crime. Colle said he has been in constant communication with police who are “aggressively investigating” the incident, but at this point no suspects have been identified.

The owner of the store, who Colle said does not want to be identified for fear of further attacks, is “shell shocked.” Colle said the police investigation and needed repairs will see the business closed for six months to a year.

“We don't want this to be a pattern of more of these horrendous acts of violence. We want this to stop and that's why one of the things we're asking for is basically for the federal minister to look at this as whether it meets the criteria of an act of terror…Because this is more than just an arson. This was a targeted act of intimidation against this shopkeeper because he's Jewish,” Colle said.

Coun. James Pasternak (left) and Deputy Mayor Mike Colle stand in front of International Delicatessen Foods on Jan. 8, 2024. The deli was the site of an arson which police are investigating as a possible hate crime.

In the face of rising antisemitic incidents in the city, Colle called out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford for more visibility and support.

“I haven't seen the Prime Minister interested in this. I haven't seen Premier Ford. Where are they?”

Toronto police said last month that they’ve recorded close to 100 hate crimes in the city since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict, initiated by a surprise attack on Oct. 7 and resulting in the death of 1,200 Israelis. Police said at least 56 of those reported hate crimes were categorized as antisemitic.

A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc acknowledged the rise in hate crimes against Jewish communities in Toronto and beyond and called the trend “both alarming and concerning.”

“Antisemitism has absolutely no place in Canada. Our law enforcement and security agencies are taking all appropriate steps to keep Canadians safe,” the statement to CTV News Toronto read in part.

For the province’s part, a spokesperson for Ontario Solicitor General Michael Kerzner said in part.: “Acts of hate and antisemitism have no place in Ontario, and people of all faiths have the inherent right to feel safe in their communities.

Colle added he’s also contacted both the federal and provincial attorney generals to make changes to the “very feeble laws” that make it “almost impossible” to prosecute individuals involved in incidents like the one on Jan. 3.

In a statement issued by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs following Monday’s news conference, vice president Jaime Kirzner-Roberts thanks Colle and Pasternak for their remarks and called on every level of government to “condemn and enforce the law to prevent these acts of hate from continuing.”

Meanwhile, Pasternak said he’s asked the OPP to step in and support Toronto police in their efforts to control the pro-Palestinaian protests at Avenue Road overpass over Highway 401 which have been ongoing for weeks.

“The intention of those rallies is to deliberately distract drivers to their cause,” Pasternak said. “And that is a dangerous, potentially catastrophic situation on our overpasses and we have to keep them clear of protests and rallies. We need OPP to help out.”

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Toronto have persisted over the past three months, as the Gaza death toll nears 23,000. While most of those protests have unfolded along University Avenue and along other major corridors, there have been some demonstrations which have targetted Jewish-owned businesses or predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods. 

In a statement issued by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs following Monday’s news conference, vice president Jaime Kirzner-Roberts thanks Colle and Pasternak for their remarks and called on every level of government to “condemn and enforce the law to prevent these acts of hate from continuing.”

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