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Synagogue 'Bubble Zones' Aren't the Answer to Hate

This article was originally published by the National Post on March 28, 2024.

Bubble zones around synagogues sound like an easy solution to rising antisemitic protests.

Synagogues have been targeted by firebombing, vandalism and loud gatherings of antisemitic protesters decrying Israel’s response to Hamas’s horrific terrorism and hostage-taking last October. These incidents have made both Jewish and non-Jewish Canadians angry and alarmed.

After five months of some of the worst antisemitism Canada has ever seen, some governments are thinking about banning protests within a certain radius around synagogues, churches and other houses of worship. In the Toronto suburb of Vaughan, councillors are considering a 100-metre no-protest bubble around houses of worship (as well as schools, daycares and hospitals.)

The safety concerns are legitimate and the problem is real.

The desire to protect the fundamental human right of religious freedom deserves praise.

But bubble zones are not the solution. We already have laws against the very antisemitic crimes so many Canadians have found abhorrent.

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, it’s a crime to obstruct religious leaders from “celebrating divine service or performing any other function” in connection with their calling or disturbing “an assemblage of persons met for religious worship.” Amazingly, the federal government proposed deleting this provision in 2017, considering it outdated. Thankfully, the government backed down.

Likewise, publicly inciting hatred, wilfully promoting hatred or even condoning, denying or downplaying the Holocaust are crimes in Canada.

What’s more, the Criminal Code also specifies that a conviction for damage to property used for religious worship or used primarily by an identifiable group can receive a longer sentence if the activity was “motivated by bias, prejudice or hate.”

On top of all that, governments at all levels have a constitutional and moral obligation to protect religious freedom, a fundamental freedom of all Canadians.

So, our problem isn’t a lack of laws or having the authority to act. Governments and police forces already have the mandate and the tools they need to address the crimes that have targeted Canada’s Jewish community.

However, Canadians are beginning to wonder whether the authorities are willing to do the tough job of upholding the law and protecting minorities, religious or otherwise. After all, how many people have police arrested for publicly inciting hatred against Jews or condoning the Holocaust? (For that matter, how many arrests have police made in connection with the 100 or so churches that have been burned or vandalized since 2021?)

Non-action and non-enforcement leads to contempt for the law and dismantles the trust Jewish and other communities place in civil authorities. They justifiably wonder what other crimes authorities are willing to tolerate.

So, let’s not add yet another law to the books. There is no lack of them.

Besides, what would a 100-metre bubble zone actually achieve? It would just push the problem 100 metres away. So, what happens when protesters block all the roads and pathways 101 metres away from a synagogue, or if they begin harassing observant Jews from surrounding neighbourhoods walking to synagogues on the Sabbath? If police weren’t willing or able to clear out antisemitic protests just outside a synagogue, what makes anyone believe they’ll act if the protest is further down the road?

Our Jewish friends and neighbours deserve far better support from authorities than they have been receiving until now.

Bubble zones only look like action. But, real action would be leaders and authorities having enough backbone to call out antisemitic evil consistently and without equivocation, and for police to enforce the blessed laws we already have. Not doing so is unconscionable and a symptom of the decline in respect for the rule of law, public order and above all religious freedom.

A flourishing society is one where authorities uphold the law, stand up for minorities and defend the fundamental freedoms of all people. It’s time to act by enforcing existing laws.

  • Rev. Dr. Andrew Bennett is the director of faith communities at Cardus

March 28, 2024

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Forget bubble zones around synagogues. Just enforce the blessed laws we have.