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'An abundance of caution': Removal of city hall menorah prompts outcry

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Winnipeg's mayor says the decision to temporarily take down city hall's Hanukkah Menorah during a weekend protest of the Israel-Hamas war was made out of an abundance of caution, but one city councillor is condemning the move as being anti-Semitic.

Mayor Scott Gillingham confirmed the city removed the menorah on Friday in anticipation of a pro-Palestinian protest Saturday. A group of protesters marched from city hall through downtown Saturday afternoon.

"It was simply an abundance of caution to avoid any potential conflict that could have happened," Gillingham said.

"There was a discussion with police, it was the recommendation that we consider bringing it inside to avoid any potential conflict."

He said the menorah was placed back in front of city hall Saturday evening.

However, the decision to remove the menorah is being fiercely condemned by Coun. Sherri Rollins.

"It is anti-Semitic to remove a religious item like the hanukkiah (menorah) for even a period of 24 hours. The hanukkiah is supposed to be a light for eight nights, and one night was missing," Rollins said.

"It is supposed to be a light. And in Winnipeg, that light should be protected, and it should be protected by having it proudly stand as it does every year for years and years in front of City Hall."

Rollins said there was no discussion with the Jewish community before the menorah was removed. She believes this sends the wrong message – both to members of the Jewish community and to all the peaceful protesters.

"I want to make sure that religious symbols, whatever religion, is displayed proudly in the City of Winnipeg, and that the folks within the City of Winnipeg can display their religious symbols proudly… without a cautionary note," Rollins said.

Jeff Lieberman, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, told CTV News the mayor called him Monday morning to explain the situation and apologize for not contacting them before the menorah was removed.

"I think if we would have had some discussion with the mayor's office before, we may have decided to not remove it. But, you know again, they thought they were doing what was best," he said.

"There wasn't anything done in malice or in a way that would be construed at all to be anti-Semitic."

Const. Dani McKinnon with the Winnipeg Police Service's public information office told CTV News there was no suggestion from police that having the menorah in front of city hall could incite any incident.

McKinnon said police advised the city that, in order to protect property, they may consider temporarily removing the menorah. She confirmed there was no specific threat that prompted this discussion.

Gillingham said the decision to remove the menorah was not intended to offend anyone or not to stand with the Jewish community. He said the city is set to have a menorah lighting at city hall on Tuesday.

The final day of Hanukkah is on Dec. 15. 

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