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Toronto police investigating hate-motivated arson, graffiti at Jewish-owned deli in North York

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Toronto police are investigating suspected hate-motivated arson and graffiti at a deli in North York on Wednesday.

Staff Supt. Pauline Gray said officers were called to International Delicatessen Foods (IDF) on Steeles Avenue near Keele Street around 6 a.m.

Gray said the inside of the local business was on fire and “Free Palestine” graffiti was sprayed on the exterior doors when they arrived at the scene.

“We suspect this to be motivated by hate,” Gray told reporters Wednesday night. “Based on the totality of circumstances, we believe that it was committed with bias or prejudice.”

Gray described this incident as a “tipping point” in Toronto, which she said will receive the full weight of the police force’s resources to investigate, arrest and prosecute the person responsible.

 “This is not graffiti on a bus shelter. This is not a lawful protest protected by constitutional right. This is a criminal act. It is violent. It is targeted. It is organized,” Gray said.

“We will leave no stone unturned.”

Graffiti on the rear doors of International Deli Foods in Vaughan.

"We are outraged and deeply concerned by this serious crime," the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto said in a news release, identifying the deli as a Jewish-owned business. "We urge all Torontonians: Take a stand. Speak up against the growing antisemitism in our midst."

The owner of the deli declined an on camera interview with CTV News, but said he's owned the business for five years.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow released a statement about the incident, saying acts of antisemitism, hate and violence are not welcome.

"Incidents like this leave people feeling shaken. They diminish our sense of safety and belonging. All residents of Toronto deserve to be safe and feel safe," Chow said.

Coun. James Pasternak spoke out about the fire on Wednesday afternoon. “We are shocked and appalled [by] the attack on IDF Foods,” Pasternak wrote in a post on social media.

“This escalation of lawlessness in Toronto must come to an end.”

Deputy Mayor Michael Colle called the incident “disgusting” while speaking with CTV News at the scene.

“It's targeted because whoever did it might have perceived it to be a Jewish-owned business. And ironically, the place of business is called the International Deli Foods and the monogram in front of the sign says IDF,” Colle said, referring to the coincidental acronym for the Israel Defense Forces.

“You wonder where we are. Are we in the 1930s in Germany here where people are firebombing and committing acts of arson against people they think are Jewish?”

Toronto Deputy Mayor Mike Colle interviewed at the scene of a fire in Vaughan.

CTV News observed police interviewing the owner of the deli in the morning and canvassing adjacent businesses in the plaza for security video in hopes of identifying suspects.

Vaughan Mayor Steven Del Duca said the increasing frequency of these “brazen, hateful acts” across the Greater Toronto Area must come to an end.

Toronto police announced last month there have been nearly 100 hate crimes reported since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, more than double the number observed during the same time period in 2022.

Police classified 56 of the 98 occurrences as antisemitic. Another 20 were categorized as anti-Muslim or anti-Palestinian.

“Leaders at all levels of government have a responsibility to speak out forcefully, and take action, against the increasing intolerance targeting Jewish-owned businesses and predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods that we are witnessing on a regular basis,” Del Duca wrote in a social media post Wednesday. 

With files from Sean Leathong

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