By DAVID LAZARUS, Staff Reporter Thursday, 27 January 2011 MONTREAL — Police in Cote St. Luc have revealed that “four or five” area synagogues were hit by vandals throwing rocks through windows a year ago using the same modus operandi as the attacks earlier this month, but Jewish community leaders decided not to make the news public.
“It was decided to keep the situation low key” to give police a chance solve the case, but no arrests were made, said Cmdr. Sylvain Bissonnette of Station 9.
He said the similarities between the attacks last year and this year point to the same perpetrator.
“We know the modus operandi, that’s for sure,” Bissonnette said in an interview last week with The CJN.
As in January 2010, “we know that it was only one individual [committing the attacks]. We have an idea of the model [of the car. At each location], the driver of the car got out, went to the trunk, opened it, took the rock and threw it at the window, closed the trunk and got back into the car.”
He said the method used in this year’s attacks matched last year’s almost exactly. In the 2010 incidents, rocks were also thrown through the windows of several synagogues, also in the dead of night, using what police think might be the same car.
Bissonnette said in both years, “almost the same [type of] rocks” were used.
As well, four months before the January 2010 vandalism, in September 2009, three synagogues in Cote St. Luc were hit, but video evidence was negligible. That vandalism was reported in the media.
Rabbi Reuben Poupko, chair of Federation CJA’s security co-ordinating committee, acknowledged the January 2010 vandalism, but said the affected institutions themselves preferred that the incidents not be made public.
The committee “did not want to pre-empt them,” he said.
Additionally, there was concern over triggering copycat incidents and handing a “victory to the vandals” by generating publicity, but that changed after the Jan. 16 vandalism due to the “cumulative effect” of having several incidents take place since September 2009.
On Jan. 16 this year, three synagogues and a school in Cote St. Luc, one synagogue in Hampstead, and another synagogue in NDG – the Shaare Zedek, discovered only the next day – were hit between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., all with single rocks thrown through their windows.
All the targets were within a few minutes drive of one another.
Police were expecting to be able to confirm the sequence of this year’s attacks based on video evidence.
The story quickly “went viral” around the world. B’nai Brith Canada described the vandalism as a “wave of attacks on Jewish institutions” and said it summoned up memories of the 2004 firebombing of the United Talmud Torahs school in St. Laurent.
But Bissonnette said while the vandalism of synagogues could be a potential hate crime, once an arrest is made, “we will know for sure.
“We will know that only when we have all the facts.”
Bissonnette said police had planned to wrap up “most of its investigation” of the Jan. 16 attacks by last Friday, with the odds of making an eventual arrest hinging on being able to clarify surveillance camera images enough to see the face of the perpetrator and confirm his car’s model and year.
Bissonnette said there was still no evidence to indicate that the attacks this year, despite being co-ordinated and planned, were the work of an organized group “with a particular cause,” since no one has claimed responsibility or left behind any notes at the scenes to that effect.
Bissonnette said solving the case is a priority. Officers from Station 9 have extensively interviewed those living in the neighbourhood of the institutions hit, as well as municipal workers and anyone else who might have seen or heard something in the early morning of Jan. 16, a particularly cold night when people tended to stay inside.
The station also has its own detective focusing on the case and is using its own “specialist” to get more detailed images from the surveillance video – a challenge, Bissonnette said, given the nighttime darkness at the time of the vandalism.
Police have also been in constant and close consultation with relevant police stations – such as PDQ 11 in NDG and PDQ 26 on Decarie Boulevard – and with community and security officials at Quebec Jewish Congress (QJC), Federation CJA and B’nai Brith.
The Jewish community entered a more heightened state of alert in the wake of the vandalism. Police boosted patrols around synagogues in Cote St. Luc, Hampstead, and Notre Dame de Grâce and met with synagogue and Jewish school officials. As well, teachers were asked to review lock-down procedures with students.
The list of groups and individuals condemning the attacks was lengthy.
Besides QJC, Federation CJA and B’nai Brith, they included Liberal party Leader Michael Ignatieff and Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, Quebec Premier Jean Charest, the Montreal Board of Rabbis, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney, the Friends of Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies and Québec Solidaire.
Bissonnette said that while there was an understandable sense of trauma felt by the Jewish community, some solace could be taken from the fact the attacks were against buildings and not people.
“It’s important to make people feel secure and to send them a message that this is an important case, but also that it was one person attacking various places.”