The Montreal police hate crimes unit is investigating after two young men were caught on video trying to grab an Israeli flag from a man and hitting him with a stick, Thursday in Westmount.
Police received a 911 call at around 1:15 p.m. about a robbery at the corner of Ste-Catherine Street West and Wood Avenue.
A video shot by a witness from a nearby office building shows two younger men trying to wrestle a rolled-up flag away from the victim, who was on his way back from an event celebrating Israel's independence.
When the two eventually let go of the flag, one of the attackers is seen picking up a stick from the ground and striking the victim in the upper body. He then repeatedly strikes a bystander who intervened, before the two assailants run away up Wood Avenue.
Dan Goldstein happened to be looking out the window from his law offices across the street to see if his daughter, who goes to high school nearby, was out for lunch, when he saw the two young men trying to grab the flag.
"They were pushing him around," said Goldstein. "I saw about 20 people standing around and nobody seemed to know what they were doing and they didn't know how to intervene."
Goldstein said he yelled to his wife, Liat Lev-Ary, to record the video, while he ran down to help the man.
WATCH | Two people attack a man in Westmount in what police say may be hate crime:
"As I emerged from the building, I screamed at the top of my lungs … 'Somebody call the police, they're assaulting him,'" he said.
"And that was their cue. That eventually caused them to start running off."
Goldstein said he chased the two young men up Wood Avenue but lost them when they made a right on De Maisonneuve Boulevard.
He said he returned to check on the victim and realized it was someone he knew. They returned to the office to give statements to the police. Goldstein said the victim had blood on his face and asked for an ice pack for his head.
Hate crime investigation
Police have reviewed the video and have spoken with witnesses but have not yet identified the assailants, who fled before officers arrived. Investigators are seeking two men in their 20s for robbery and armed assault.
"The investigation is ongoing and it has been transferred to the hate crime unit because it seems that the crime has been motivated by hate," said Mariane Allaire Morin, spokesperson for the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM).
Goldstein said it's clear to him that the violent incident was "100 per cent" motivated by antisemitism.
"If you're randomly attacking somebody in the street simply because they're carrying a national flag … on the way back from a specific event that is celebrated specifically by Jews, that's a hate crime," he said.
"For me it's a trigger," said Goldstein, who lost many members of one side of his family in the Holocaust, while on the other side, his family left Belarus and Ukraine.
"We had three generations not growing up with a father in the home because they all died in antisemitic incidents," he said.
He said while Canada has always felt safe, incidents like this make him question his sense of security.
"Oh wait, maybe I have to be a little bit reserved in terms of my national and ethnic identities, as a Jew," he said. "It's disquieting."
Joint statement condemning attack
The Federation CJA and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) put out a joint statement condemning the attack.
The statement said "antisemitic acts and acts of aggression, intimidation, and hatred are not acceptable" and that Jewish Montrealers and supporters of Israel "must be free to celebrate in peace and safety."
A spokesperson for Dawson College, which is located in the same vicinity of the site of the attack, said the college was aware of the incident and said "Dawson is reviewing the video to ascertain if any Dawson students were involved."
Police did not have any information to suggest that the assailants were students at the college.