Toronto

Threat made to Jewish school in Toronto on same day that U.S. groups get threats

Jewish community centre in London, Ont. also got threatening phone call

Toronto police

Toronto police say nothing suspicious has been found. ( Vedran Lesic/CBC)

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A threat was made to a Jewish school in Toronto on the same day that threats were received by a Jewish community centre in London, Ont. and several Jewish groups in the U.S.

The threat to the London community centre is the second in two months.

Toronto police said they received a report of a threatening phone call to the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, which houses the Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School, at about 10:15 a.m. on Tuesday. 

Police evacuated the school, the preschool and the community centre and cleared the area before giving the all-clear and allowing activities to resume.

The intersection nearest the school, Bloor Street West and Spadina Avenue, had already been closed for an unrelated demonstration, but police expanded the road closure as they investigated. It has also since been reopened to pedestrians and vehicles.

Toronto police

Toronto police investigate after a threatening phone call was made to the Downtown Jewish Community School at Bloor Street West and Spadina Avenue. The school is located in the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre. ( Vedran Lesic/CBC)

'Feeling of unease'

Elana Rabinovitch, who works out at the gym inside the community centre, said she was troubled by the threat.

"It's upsetting. It was upsetting to see the little kids being hurried out of the building and being taken up the street to a church," she told CBC Toronto. "It was upsetting to see all these people not knowing what's going on and thinking the worst."

Rabinovitch said after the alarm sounded in the gym, she and others who were exercising assumed it was likely a bomb scare after hearing of similar threats in the U.S.

"On the one hand, you think it's a threat because that's what they've been, just threats," she said. "But my mind goes to what would happen if this is not just a threat and if it was real. It's freaky."

She said they exited the community centre and were ushered away from the building. They were briefly inside the nearby Scotiabank and later inside the Second Cup — which gave out free coffee, tea and biscuits — before the all-clear was given.

Rabinovitch said she will go to the gym Wednesday, like she always does, "in spite of everything."

"It's all over and nobody got hurt. But it still leaves you with a residual feeling of unease, especially about going back."

Threat made over the phone: police

Toronto Mayor John Tory visited the centre to reassure members of the Jewish community and to say the city supports them against such threats.

The Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre said Toronto police and firefighters conducted a sweep of the building before reopening the centre.

Const. Victor Kwong, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service, confirmed the threat was made over the phone and said it was deemed to be not credible. He said the intersection near the community centre was reopened at 12:30 p.m. 

Officers found nothing suspicious, he said, although they initially described the incident as suspicious.

The police's chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive unit was called to the scene.

Threats treated as highest priority

Kwong said police cleared the area as a safety precaution.

"We will investigate these incidents as the highest priority, then work our way back down. This ensures the public is kept safe," he said.

The Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre thanked police officers and firefighters for their "immediate and thorough response" to the threat.

Ryan Hartman, director of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, an advocacy group based in Toronto that speaks for Jewish Federations of Canada, described the threats in Toronto and London as alarming. He said the group is working closely with police.

"These alarming incidents, combined with similar threats targeting Jewish community centres across North America, remind us of the need for continued vigilance in the fight against anti-Semitism," Hartman said.

Threats won't curtail activities: advocacy group

"Our community has strong security protocols in place and benefits from close working relationships with police agencies, which have proven extremely responsive in dealing with these terrible acts."

Hartman said the threat will not curtail activities at the community centres in Toronto and London.

"As Canadians, we will not tolerate anti-Semitism — or any other form of hatred — in our society. While maintaining vigilance, Jewish Canadians will not be deterred from actively enjoying our community centres."

When the intersection was closed in Toronto, nearby Toronto private schools, Howlett Academy and University of Toronto Schools, were temporarily locked down, and University of Toronto police were notified about the threat. 

TTC buses came to the scene to shelter people forced out of the school and community centre.

Nothing suspicious found in London

In London, Ont., police said they received a report at 10:07 a.m. of a bomb threat to a local community centre, which was evacuated along with an adjoining apartment building.

Nothing suspicious was found and everyone was allowed back inside by 11:30 a.m.

"We scoured the building, went from floor to floor, and reviewed video surveillance. Through our investigation, we found everything to be in order," Const. Matt Dawson of the London Police Service said.

The centre received a similar threat on Jan. 31st.

In the U.S., the Anti-Defamation League and several Jewish community centres across the country received bomb threats on Tuesday.

New York Police Department Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said there were five threats in New York City on Tuesday morning, including to the Anti-Defamation League, which also received threats to offices in Atlanta, Boston and Washington, D.C.

The JCC Association of North America said several Jewish community centres received email or phone threats overnight and early Tuesday, but didn't specify how many. 

"This is a moment in time, in history, where forces of hate have been unleashed," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a Jewish Community Centre on Staten Island that had received threats. "It is exceedingly unsettling."

The Anti-Defamation League said threats were also made in Oregon, Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida and Maryland.