Anyone who has visited a synagogue in continental Europe or South America can attest that – even in liberal democracies welcoming of diversity – the Jewish community is an at-risk minority requiring extensive security measures. While Canada is relatively safe for Jews, Statistics Canada data nevertheless show that, of the on average three hate crimes per day in Canada, our community is the most frequently targeted.
Canadians outside the Jewish community are often surprised to learn of the significant security measures required in our synagogues, day schools and Jewish community centres. And, although security concerns are a commonplace reality for Jewish institutions, members of our own community are often shocked to discover the enormous price tag that comes with such requirements as security guards, cameras and enhanced locks.
Many community institutions struggle to foot their security bill. Fortunately, the Government of Canada’s Security Infrastructure Program (SIP) helps certain eligible institutions offset some of the costs of external security measures. SIP both helps communities afford vital protection and sends a strong message that the government stands with at-risk minorities.
Indeed, it’s not just the Jewish community that has benefited from SIP. While our institutions are disproportionately affected by hate crimes, Sikh gurdwaras, Islamic mosques, Hindu temples and Christian churches have also been targets. Without SIP, institutions in these diverse communities would be on their own in financing security upgrades.
CIJA’s priorities are guided by feedback from our community, and we have heard from many across the country that community security is a foremost concern. This is why CIJA recently launched an online campaign to call on the federal government to significantly expand SIP to better protect at-risk communities:
First, the federal government should increase SIP’s budget. In Canada, $1 million is available through SIP to vulnerable communities each year. In comparison, £11 million ($20.4 million) is available in the United Kingdom to secure their synagogues and Jewish day schools alone.
Second, the federal government should allow funds to be used to finance the cost of both external and internal measures such as security guards, interior cameras and access controls. These types of protections are effective but expensive. By helping offset their costs, SIP would prove even more helpful to at-risk communities.
Finally, the federal government should make SIP more accessible to institutions with modest resources, including places of worship that serve smaller or lower-income congregations. At present, SIP includes a 50/50 funding formula that leaves many vulnerable institutions unable to access support through SIP simply because they do not have the capacity to match funds. Unfortunately, these are often the institutions most in need. By amending the program to allow for needs-based approval, more of the most vulnerable Canadians would receive protection.
These are all reasonable requests that are attainable through a concerted advocacy effort on the part of our community. You can join thousands of others across Canada by joining CIJA’s campaign. It will take just two minutes and a visit to cija.ca/sip.
Jason Z. Murray is chair of the Local Partner Council, Pacific Region, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.