Religious groups get security boost

| March 14, 2010

EDMONTON — Eight of Edmonton's most frequently vandalized religious and ethnic centres will soon boast enhanced security, federal minister of public safety Vic Toews said on Friday.

His head covered with a yellow bandana in accordance with Sikh tradition, Toews made the announcement to a small crowd of Sikhs and other religious minorities gathered at the Sikh temple on Millwoods Road.

"The unfortunate reality is that although Canada is a very welcoming nation, it is not immune from violent acts that target individuals or groups based on their race, culture, religion, or identity," he said, noting that police reported more than 800 hate crimes across Canada in 2007. Of those, 185 of them were directed at religions.

While the vandalism at minority religious centres is sometimes considered a "victimless crime, the harm is profound," Toews.

"Hate-motivated crime often leaves more than just physical damage; it can put entire communities into a state of fear and anxiety."

To combat such hate crimes, Toews announced the federal government's security infrastructure pilot program would match the $265,000 raised by eight Edmonton religious centres to install security systems. The installations — including fencing, improved lighting, and video cameras — will be used at the Sikh temple as well as Jewish, Islamic, Coptic, and Jamaican gathering places.

Taking the podium after Toews, Const. Ken Smith praised the religious communities for coming together to help fund security improvements.

"From my experience, it's well documented that when the community itself works within itself to find solutions to crime, it's much more effective. This is (such) a case … and we've seen results," he said. He encouraged any threatened groups to contact the police department for help improving security.

Such consultation with police led the Coptic Orthodox Church to raise $65,000, matched by the federal government, to install a gated fence and light poles on its grounds. The church has dealt with numerous broken windows and been vandalized with swastikas as recently as last year, said Dr. Fawzy Morcos, a member of its board of deacons.

"It was really horrible," he said of a 2005 incident, which saw the number 666 and the phrase "F … Jesus" written on the building's entrance.

Once the lights and fence are installed, Morcos hopes his church will see a drop in incidents similar to what's happened at the Sikh temple, where a three-year barrage of racist graffiti ended after security cameras were installed earlier this month.

Bal Sandhu, chairman of the temple's advisory committee, said his community feels safer now, "especially the kids. Because when the kids see this kind of writing on the wall, they starting asking questions: 'Why are people writing? Why do they hate us? Why do they do this? So that has eliminated that.' "

Edmonton police reported 155 hate crimes in 2009, out of 228 provincewide.

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Category: Synagogue/Jewish Security

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