Two members of the Jewish community are reacting and offering potential paths forward after viewing an amateur video shot on the property of a school in North Bay. In the footage, a group of students wearing Ecole secondaire catholique Algonquin uniforms is seen moving across the school's athletic field, raising their arms in Nazi salutes and shouting antisemitic slurs.
See original story: Grade 8 hate speech video prompts police investigation at local school
Asked if he has any doubt about how to classify this type of activity, Martin Sampson, the Vice President of Communications and Marketing for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) advises "marching through a schoolyard with arms raised in Nazi salute shouting 'F*ck the Jews!' is hate speech."
North Bay resident Sharon Carbell Fung was raised in a Jewish family and admits to feeling sadness when she learned of the situation. "The students yelling 'F*ck the Jews!' made me want to cry. Here, in North Bay? I just don’t think I ever expected to hear that."
The role of the CIJA is to combat antisemitism and it represents hundreds of thousands of Jewish Canadians affiliated with Jewish federations across Canada.
"The situation must be handled immediately and decisively. If it is not, then we risk a further slide in the creeping normalcy of antisemitism and that is really bad for everyone. When Jew-hatred infests our discourse, it erodes the foundations of our society, and that affects us all," offers Sampson.
He says the incident is not criminal but "more of a sad reflection on the state of our society which has allowed this hatred to seep into the minds of young people than it is an indictment of these particular young people."
Carbell Fung wondered "if they even understand what they were doing and if they got caught up in the group mentality that is so common In that age group? I don’t think we can point fingers at parenting or teachers not doing their jobs. We don’t need to play the blame game so I think education is what is needed here."
Sampson acknowledges the important role the North Bay Police Service has taken so far and says police can help these kids understand the severity of their actions. He and Carbell Fung agree on the need for education.
"It’s not really a law enforcement matter. This should be handled by the parents and the teachers — the adults who are shaping these young minds."
Sampson feels the situation warrants neither suspension nor expulsion from school "provided this incident is the first of its nature and the children are responsive to a serious discussion about why their behaviour was utterly unacceptable."
Asked what sort of repercussions the students should face, Sampson reinforces, "Education. The students in the video clearly do not understand what they are doing or saying. They are young teenagers behaving badly and provocatively."
But, there is a caveat, according to Sampson.
"If the behaviour repeats itself after education, or is revealed to be part of a pattern, then my answer to this would likely change."
Continuing with the education theme, Carbell Fung suggests the school learn from the experiences of Holocaust survivor Eva Olsson, as well as having a member of the police service outline the laws around hate crimes.
"I doubt those kids even know it’s a crime, I doubt they even understand what 'antisemitic' means."
If this group of students received instruction about the Holocaust as grade 7 students, Carbell Fung wonders if the lessons were lost in the pandemic upheaval. "Perhaps a re-do of this subject is in order. These students should be made to cover that part of the curriculum again."
Like the school board, Sampson would not comment on reports at least one staff member watched as the group of students marched.
However, he does say "the school should investigate, determine precisely what happened, see if the situation was handled correctly, and, if it is deemed they were deficient in their response, they should say so, apologize, and demonstrate what they are going to put in place to ensure something like this never happens again.
"Imagine if you were a Jewish child or parent having to witness this? Completely unacceptable in the society people of goodwill aspire to build."