By BERNIE BELLAN
An incident happened in a Winnipeg neighbourhood on New Year’s Eve. A rock with anti-Semitic writing was left inside a gift bag and left on a homeowner’s step.
Apparently one of the homeowners is Jewish.
Now – here’s where the story took a different twist than was first reported by B’nai Brith in a release issued by B’nai Brith Canada January 4. The release did not make clear that the homeowners had actually initially contacted the Winnipeg Police Service, that the WPS was well aware of the incident and was actively investigating it before B’nai Brith contacted the WPS. We ourselves posted the B’nai Brith release verbatim on this website, but have now chosen to remove it.
Here is how B’nai Brith described what happened in its release: “The Winnipeg Police Department and its Hate Crimes Coordinator are investigating an ugly antisemitic incident that occurred in a residential neighbourhood near downtown Winnipeg on New Year's Eve after the victims, who have asked to remain anonymous, called B’nai Brith Canada’s 24-7 Anti-Hate Hotline.” (emphasis ours)
Again, according to a spokesperson for the WPS, they were contacted by the homeowners prior to being contacted by B’nai Brith.
So – why would the WPS not have issued a release upon learning of the incident, and why did B’nai Brith take it upon itself to issue a release on its own?
Police services are often called upon to use their discretion when it comes to reporting incidents of this type. According to the spokesperson for the WPS, “normally we wouldn’t issue a release” subsequent to an incident of the type that occurred in Winnipeg for two reasons:
- The WPS would not want to unnecessarily alarm neighbours if this were an isolated incident. (As of the time of writing, there is still no indication what may have led to this anti-Semitic incident.)
- The danger that publicizing this incident might lead to further “copycat” incidents.
Apparently, when B’nai Brith did issue its own release reporting the incident, however, other media organizations picked up on that release – as did our own paper. Some of those media outlets also contacted the WPS asking why B’nai Brith had been given the “scoop”, so to speak, about the incident. It was left to the WPS to explain to those other media organizations that one of the homeowners had contacted B’nai Brith on his or her own and that B’nai Brith decided to issue a release without consulting with the WPS. Further, the photos used in the B’nai Brith press release were taken by one of the homeowners. The spokesperson for the WPS suggested that at least one of the photos contained evidence that would have been better left unreleased. Also, the WPS does not normally release photographs when it issues news releases.
There are several questions now resulting from B’nai Brith’s handling of this entire affair:
- Did B’nai Brith sensationalize the incident in order to inflame fears about anti-Semitism? For the record, this paper is often contacted about anti-Semitic incidents here and there, often with pictures attached. While we do follow up all incidents – either by contacting the WPS if they seem very serious, or looking into them ourselves, we always try to use discretion in reporting incidents. It is too easy to sensationalize every drawing of a swastika that might appear somewhere, for instance.
- Why did B’nai Brith suggest that the WPS was investigating the incident in question only after it was first reported to B’nai Brith when, in fact, the opposite was the case, i.e. the homeowner first reported it to the WPS, then to B’nai Brith?