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Police open hate crime probe as shootings at 2 Montreal Jewish schools leave parents on edge

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Parents say they anxiously debated Friday morning about whether or not to send their young children to school after shootings at both United Talmud Torahs of Montreal Inc. and Yeshiva Gedola in the Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough.

"It's a rough time, I'm not going to lie," said parent Michael Chriqui. "We wondered, me and my wife, if we should bring our six-and-a-half-year-old son who goes to school here, if we should keep him home."

He stresses Canada is supposed to be a safe place -- the very reason his parents left Morocco to come to Montreal.

"My wife and I had a very hard day yesterday trying to understand why someone would do that. Why would someone target an elementary school with kids just because they're Jewish?" he said. "It should never be the case, regardless of what's going on around the world. Our kids should be safe here."

Others say they were grateful to see police patrolling the area near the schools to ensure the children stay safe.

"The kids are coming into school to be kids and learn, and people are trying to intimidate us, but we're not intimidated. We're a strong community," said Guy Hazan, who has an eight-year-old son. "We're not a violent community, and there are people trying to commit violent acts against us, and that's what the police are here for."

HATE CRIME UNIT ON THE CASE

Montreal police say they've transferred the investigation to the hate crime unit "because we consider this to be a hate incident," confirmed Deputy Chief Vincent Richer. 

Investigators are looking at video surveillance footage to identify potential perpetrators and their vehicles. 

The shootings were first reported to police Thursday morning.

The first 911 call was made at 8:20 a.m. when a member of the United Talmud Torahs of Montreal Inc. found a bullet hole in a door of the elementary and high school.

About 30 minutes later, police received a second 911 call about a bullet hole found in the door of Yeshiva Gedola, which also houses a daycare.

No injuries were reported, and no suspects have been arrested.

Thursday, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said she was "horrified" by the news.

"This is absolutely unacceptable. This is not Montreal," she said. "Our values [are] to be inclusive, to be respectful, and it has to stay that way because this is what Montreal wants."

Statistics gathered from Oct. 7 to Nov. 7 by Montreal police show there have been 73 hate crime incidents targeting Jewish communities in the city, as well as 25 targeting Arab-Muslim people, since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

Scorch marks are still visible on the Congregation Beth Tikvah doors after the synagogue was the target of an attempted arson on Tuesday. Montreal police are investigating the incident as a hate crime (Luca Caruso-Moro, CTV News)

On Tuesday, the Congregation Beth Tikvah synagogue and a neighbouring Jewish organization in Dollard-des-Ormeaux on the West Island were the targets of attempted arson

Since then, Beth Tikvah President Charles Leibovich says the synagogue has had to take additional precautions. 

"We've had to increase security. The security of our members is always an our mind and we've had security for many years, but now its going to be a lot more visible," he told CTV News. 

Richer says Montreal police have increased their presence near Jewish institutions. Leibovich said he hopes people continue to demonstrate and voice their opinions on the Israel-Hamas war, so long as it's done peacefully.

"We have the right to disagree," he said, "but we disagree peacefully." 

PUBLIC SECURITY MINISTER MEETS WITH POLICE

Quebec Public Security Minister François Bonnardel met with leaders of the Sûreté du Québec and the Montreal police Friday morning.

He asked for the police plans for the coming days covering demonstrations in Quebec related to the war, Maxime Belanger, a spokesperson for the minister, told CTV News.

“He was reassured to know that they are planning to be very present and have ongoing communications with the Jewish and Muslim communities as well [university] student groups,” Belanger said.

The meeting was held virtually, and Montreal Police Chief Fady Dagher was not there since he was on vacation, but senior SPVM officials were present.

The minister cannot instruct police departments on their operations, but he takes the current context of tensions and demonstrations very seriously, Belanger said.

With files from CTV News Montreal's Max Harrold

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