Antisemitic flyers linked to U.S.-based hate group raise concerns in Peterborough, Ont.

Advocacy organizations say the distribution of antisemitic flyers in Peterborough, Ont., and elsewhere is linked to an American hate group, as police continue to investigate the latest incident.

Over the Canada Day long weekend, 19 Peterborough residents reported receiving flyers promoting anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and white supremacist propaganda, marking the third time in three months that such flyers were distributed to various neighbourhoods in the city.

“It’s just not acceptable that our brothers and sisters in the Jewish community have been targeted for this kind of vile hatred,” said Peterborough Mayor Jeff Leal.

The mayor said the hateful conduct originated from the United States. The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish advocacy organization, and others have specifically linked the flyers to the U.S.-based hate group Goyim Defense League. GDL is described as a “loose” network of individuals on the internet who stream antisemitic content and engage in stunts to harass Jewish people.

Peterborough police have not specifically named any individuals or groups responsible for the flyers. No arrests have been made.

The most recent incident comes one week after antisemitic and anti-Black graffiti was discovered on an elementary school in the city. Antisemitic flyers believed to be linked to GDL were also found in Saskatoon earlier this year.

“For some reason, Peterborough seems to have become somewhat of a hotbed of extremist right-wing sentiment,” Ron Molnar, a spokesman for the Jewish Community Centre of Peterborough, said in an emailed statement.

“But the Jewish community itself has not been specifically targeted, just tarred with the same brush, or by inference, a slightly larger brush.”

In 2020, Peterborough had a rate of 19.4 police-reported hate crimes per 100,000 population, the highest in the country. It fell second to Ottawa in 2021 at 18.7 cases per 100,000 population, but was still well above the national average rate of 8.8, according to Statistics Canada.

Across the country, more than half of hate crimes motivated by religion targeted Jewish people in 2021, according to StatCan.

There were 2,769 antisemitic incidents recorded in Canada in 2022 with 74 per cent of them occurring online, including social media posts and comments, according to an audit by B’nai Brith Canada.

Dan Panneton, director of allyship and community engagement for the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, cautioned against calling antisemitism a systemic problem in Peterborough but is concerned by the growing number of hate-related incidents linked to the GDL.

Panneton says the group itself isn’t targeting the city, but it’s influencing online sympathizers to pass out flyers and propaganda shared on the internet – a key part of their strategy.

“What this does is attract attention and it builds the perception that there is a significant Nazi presence in the area,” Panneton said.

According to Carla Hill, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League, GDL has grown in the United States and its influence has begun to seep into other countries, including Canada. She said there are around 100 people who actively distribute propaganda but thousands who support it.

“This increase in antisemitism we’re seeing across the United States doesn’t stop at the border unfortunately,” Hill said.

“It’s definitely an expanding network. It started its expansion probably in 2020 when it was quite small, and it’s grown to what it is today. And that, unfortunately, includes Canadians.”

Gerry Almendrades, a security adviser for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said that while GDL has organized anti-Jewish demonstrations in the United States, this hasn’t yet occurred in Canada. Rather, sympathizers download propaganda they find on the internet that is inspired by the group.

“Hate operates on various levels. It’s not just property damage and vandalism – hate also operates on the psychological and moral plane,” Almendrades said.

“It is cowardice that keeps them from being seen and what they are trying to do is have a psychological effect on members of the community.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2023. 

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