On May 19, CJAD, an English-language radio station in Montreal, hosted a segment covering the existence of organized crime in the city.
In the segment entitled: “Montreal Has Seen an Increase in Organized Crime Over The Past Year,” host Aaron Rand spoke with James Paixao, an Inspector with the SPVM’s (Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, or Montreal Police Service) Criminal Investigation Unit.
At one point while discussing organized crime’s tactics, Paixao casually used a highly offensive slur against the Jewish community.
Discussing the use of extortion, Paixao said organized crime will sometimes target “people who… borrowed money and owe money and they’re being intimidated to pay, for example, shylocking.”
Listen to the clip from the interview below:
Paixao’s comment elicit a grunt in an apparent agreement from Rand, who did not acknowledge nor challenge the use of the word shylock.
The term shylock originates in William Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, where it refers to a fictional character, a greedy and money-hungry Jew who demands a “pound of flesh” as a repayment for a loan.
In the play, Shylock is more than just a Jew who is given an unsavoury personality; his Jewish character is closely interwoven with his negative traits, tying them up together closely into a single character clearly reflecting the Jewish community as a whole.
While literary scholars have debated the antisemitic nature of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and whether it was antisemitic in its own right, or instead reflected the prevailing hostile attitudes towards Jews at the time it was written around the year 1600, those details are inconsequential.
What matters is that in 2023, and for many years prior, the term shylock has been commonly understood to be a slur used against the Jewish community.
In 1962, The Merchant of Venice was scheduled to be performed in New York City. It was vocally opposed by much of the city’s Jewish community, who castigated Shakespeare’s work as “a distortion and defamation of our people and our faith,” according to a statement at the time by the New York Board of Rabbis.
One Jewish leader, Rabbi Louis I. Newman, explained at the time that as recently as two decades prior, ugly caricatures of Jews similar to images used in The Merchant of Venice had been used successfully to demonize Europe’s Jewish population by the Nazis.
The Merchant of Venice is “a drama which has been demonstrated beyond peradventure of a doubt as a breeding center for those destructive forces which eventuated in the disasters of the 1930s and 1940s,” Newman told Time Magazine.
Despite the ugliness of the term shylock, or the verb shylocking, its usage is still occasionally used by public figures.
In 2014, Joe Biden, at the time the United States’ Vice President, used the term shylock to refer to individuals who made bad, unethical loans. After criticism, he soon apologized and acknowledged that he had made “a poor choice of words.”
Paixao’s usage of the term on May 19, just like Biden’s use of the word in 2014, may not have been made with malicious intent, but they still carry deeply negative connotations for the Jewish community.
Only 80 years ago, Nazi Germany was able to make extensive use of classic antisemitic imagery of Jews as greedy money-lenders to help pave the way for the demonization, and eventual mass murder of European Jewry.
Shakespeare’s Shylock character was more than just a greedy money lender; he was almost demonic in nature, but always overtly Jewish.
“The pale pink face, surrounded by bright red hair and beard, with its unsteady, cunning little eyes; the greasy caftan with the yellow prayer shawl slung round, the splay-footed, shuffling walk; the foot stamping with rage; the clawlike gestures with the hands; the voice, now bawling, now muttering — all add up to a pathological image of the East European Jewish type, expressing all its inner and outer uncleanliness, emphasizing danger through humour,” is how one Nazi-era critic in Vienna described Shylock’s character.
Regardless of the intention, the term shylock has a long and antisemitic history, both in its original intent, and in its usage by Nazi Germany to demonize Jews. It should not have been said.
We are pleased to report that subsequent to HonestReporting Canada’s complaint, on June 6, the SPVM responded by offering an unequivocal apology. Furthermore, the SPVM has banned the term’s use altogether by its officials and has sensitized its staff about the harmful history of the term.
In a letter sent to HRC Executive Director Mike Fegelman, Inspector David Shane, Spokesperson and Head of Communications at the SPVM, stated the following:
Good afternoon Mr. Fegelman,
As head of communications for the SPVM, I truly appreciate you bringing this matter to our attention, as we were all unaware of the origins of the term “shylocking” and its highly offensive nature towards the Jewish community. I was shocked to realize that we have used this term without even realizing the negative impact it might have had on the Jewish community, with whom we maintain such good relations.
This afternoon I held a meeting with my executive officers involved in the management of our communications and I briefed them on what you have taught us through your email. I forbid them to use the term or to permit to use of the term. This meeting included inspector Paixao. They all understood very well and agreed with the importance of banning this term from our vocabulary.
Tomorrow we will inform our employees involved in all our communications, including every spokesperson at every rank of our organisation, so that this term will not be used again.
Thanks again for informing us of this issue and for helping us prevent any misunderstanding with the Jewish community.
Please do not hesitate to contact me for any further question or comment.
Inspecteur David Shane
Responsable des communications et porte-parole du SPVM
HonestReporting Canada thanks the SPVM and Inspeteur Shane for addressing this matter with such sensitivity, great care and deep understanding. We commend the SPVM for the remedial action it has undertaken and appreciate that the term has been banned.
Importantly, Montreal’s Jewish community is deeply appreciative of the SPVM’s support of our community, especially as it faces an uptick in antisemitic hate crimes, as evidenced recently in the swift SPVM arrest of a teenager who stole an Israeli flag and burned it outside a Montreal-area Jewish school.
Listen to the full interview below: