Toronto police say an early morning fire at a North York deli is being investigated as a suspected hate-motivated incident and arson.
Toronto Fire responded to a call around 6 a.m. Wednesday for a commercial fire at International Deli Foods in the area of Steeles Avenue and Keele Street.
Fire officials tell CityNews crews arrived to find smoke coming from the rear of the building. The fire was put out and no injuries were reported.
Graffiti could be seen scrawled on the back of the building that reads “Free Palestine.”
A nearby business owner tells CityNews the deli is owned by a Russian Jewish family.
Staff Supt. Pauline Gray says the Toronto Police Hate Crime Unit is now investigating the incident as a hate-motivated crime.
“This is not graffiti on a bus shelter, this is not lawful protest protected by constitutional right. This is a criminal act. It is violent, it is targeted, it is organized,” said Gray.
“When I saw it’s organized, they didn’t just happen upon this business. These people have targeted this business and that means they’ve been here before,” added Gray, who reiterated that if anyone has any information or video footage of potential suspects in the area in the days leading up to today’s incident to contact police.
Toronto Coun. Mike Colle called the incident a “firebombing” and a “disgusting criminal act.”
“This is an attack on people because they may not be of your religion or your race,” Colle says. “This antisemitic violence is something that is really troubling.”
Local councillor James Pasternak said in a post on X on Wednesday the fire was “a hate motivated attack on a Jewish-owned business.”
Police say if a person is charged and convicted of a crime believed to have been motivated by bias, prejudice or hate, the Judge in the case will take into consideration hate as an aggravating factor when imposing a sentence.
Last month, Toronto police reported an alarming rise in hate crimes in the city with the Jewish and Muslim communities as recurring targets.