- The federal Security Infrastructure Program assists communities at risk of hate-motivated crime to improve security infrastructure for places of worship, schools and community centres.
- The program could be improved significantly by increasing the funding level and updating the current program criteria to reflect current realities.
- Modernizing the SIP will ensure government assistance gets to those who need it most, with the greatest impact for their safety and wellbeing.
Securing vulnerable places of worship, community centres, and schools poses significant costs to communities. While synagogues are disproportionately affected by hate crimes, Sikh temples, Islamic mosques, Hindu temples, and Christian churches have also all been targeted in the past year. The federal Security Infrastructure Program (SIP) assists communities at risk of hate-motivated crime to improve security infrastructure for places of worship, schools and community centres. It has provided significant support to the Jewish community, which, according to Statistics Canada, is targeted by hate crime more than any other religious minority in Canada.
However, the nature of threats and the cost of security measures have changed significantly since the SIP was created in 2008, as have the needs and number of at-risk groups. According to Statistics Canada, an average of three hate crimes take place every day in Canada, ranging from racist graffiti, to serious vandalism, to arson, assault, and – in extreme cases – violence. In the past few years alone, police in British Columbia and Ontario have intercepted terror plots targeting Jewish Canadians, and overseas terrorist organizations have called for attacks on Jewish-owned sites in Canada. The criteria, process and structure of the SIP are in need of modernization to en- sure the continuing effectiveness of the program.
The orientation of the SIP must be updated to reflect current realities. Vulnerable communities are not only confronted with hate graffiti or rock throwing incidents. Increasingly, security infrastructure is required to prevent shootings, stabbings and bombings. Jewish community centres, schools and synagogues are increasingly concerned with active shooter scenarios, similar to the terrorist attacks that have taken such a horrific toll on Jewish communities in France, Belgium, and Israel. Addressing these types of threats requires internal safety measures not currently included in the SIP, such as cameras, security film for windows, security doors, and locks. Other facilities require security guards, which are also excluded from the current program.
The SIP, as currently constructed, covers 50% of the costs for approved projects, to a maximum of $100,000. The requirement of equally match- ing funds puts much-needed support beyond the means of some of the most vulnerable institutions. The program could be improved significantly by including needs-based approval for facilities that re- quire security infrastructure support but are un- able to provide matching funds.
The growing threat of violence targeting at-risk communities also requires an increase to the overall SIP funding cap, currently set at $3 million. As a point of comparison, the Jewish community alone was recently provided with £11 million in the United Kingdom to support its security infrastructure. Furthermore, the maximum grant of $100,000 is often insufficient for major infrastructure projects, leaving them uncompleted and rendering institutions vulnerable. The government should consider increasing the funding level accordingly.
Perhaps most importantly, current SIP approval criteria place greater weight on applications from institutions that can demonstrate a history of hate activity targeting their location or area. Geographic and historical criteria are irrational and of little value from a security perspective, making it difficult for communities to access support before an attack takes place or in a location where a new community is just beginning to grow.
Threats against vulnerable communities are increasing around the world and, sadly, Canada is not immune. Investing in infrastructure to keep Canadians safe has proven to be a successful model for helping at-risk communities. Modernizing the SIP will ensure government assistance gets to those who need it most in a manner that will comprehensively address their specific circumstances and acute needs.