Community, religious leaders react to anti-Semitic vandalism in Edson, Alta.
'It does not represent our community as a whole.'
A man driving a stolen vehicle plowed through the Edson provincial building and courthouse on Saturday morning, leaving behind shattered glass and rubble — and anti-Semitic slurs.
Members of various religious communities are denouncing the prejudicial messaging, which are being investigated by Edson RCMP.
The case will be investigated as a hate crime, said RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Marcia McDermott. A man has been taken into custody but charges have not yet been laid.
The suspect allegedly stole the vehicle from the Atco Electric lot next door, drove through the fence and then through the east entrance of the provincial building, RCMP said in a news release Saturday night. The vehicle went through the building and exited out the west side before driving into the attached courthouse.
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Edson RCMP received reports of excessive damage at about 9:30 a.m. They found anti-Semitic messages scattered throughout the scene when they arrived.
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"I'm just totally shocked. It's something that I never thought would have happened," said Rick Vanderveen, who belongs to Edson's Mennonite Church and is against attacks on any religion.
Vanderveen was surprised to learn RCMP officers found slurs targeting Judaism in his town.
"Edson doesn't have a Jewish identity of any sort," he said.
The Mennonite church sympathizes with anyone affected by the images, he added.
Displays of prejudice 'put a community on edge'
About 10 of Edson's more than 8,000 residents identify as Jewish, according to the 2016 census.
Steven Shafir, president of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton, believes the small size of the Jewish population in Edson isn't relevant. Prejudice, he said, has widespread consequences.
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"While [the slurs in Edson] may not specifically be injuring or harming an individual person physically, they do harm people emotionally. They also put a community on edge," Shafir said.
Shafir also said he's concerned about the increase in hate crimes targeting the Jewish community across Canada, calling the trend saddening and alarming.
It's unfortunate that certain individuals have these hateful views.- Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara
Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara walked through the buildings to get a firsthand look at the damage.
He didn't get a chance to see the anti-Semitic markings but confirmed that RCMP is investigating them.
Not the first time Edson has responded to hate
This isn't the first time Zahara has had to denounce attacks against a religion in Edson. Last year, an arsonist targeted the town's mosque.
The mayor said there can be no tolerance for hate.
"It's unfortunate that certain individuals have these hateful views," Zahara said.
"We're always concerned when incidents like this occur in our community, especially when there's hateful comments that are left behind," Zahara said. "It does not represent our community as a whole."
He urged people not to connect last year's arson attack with Saturday's vandalism.
"We're a very inclusive and welcoming community and we're very happy that a suspect has been arrested," he said.
RCMP said the suspect has multiple charges pending.
Edson is located about 200 kilometres west of Edmonton.
With files from Anna McMillan and Tricia Kindleman.