This week the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) published an opinion piece that appeared to denounce the Ontario Court of Justice guilty judgment against Your Ward News’ editor and publisher. The CJN guest writer said that the “…recent Ontario court ruling produced one of the most damaging blows to free speech in this country.” We respectfully disagree.
First and foremost, for the benefit of Judge Richard Blouin who wrote a well-informed judgment on January 24, 2019 and to the Crown who prosecuted this case with great care and conviction (bringing in top expert witnesses) and the Toronto Police Hate Crimes Unit that vigorously pursued the case, responded to complaints from the Jewish community, women and other impacted groups and who themselves were subject of ridicule in the paper – it is important to state on behalf of all our member families at FSWC and the community at large, thank you. We applaud your effort and congratulate you on this successful outcome.
Second, on the matter of prosecuting hate speech and hate crime versus the right to free speech, these matters cannot be taken lightly. We believe in freedom of speech as long as it does not victimize, oppress and marginalize another group and as long as it does not promote violence. This is why in Canada there are rigorous mechanisms in place starting from the investigation to Attorney General consent (which rarely happens), followed by a trial to assess the validity of the charges. In fact, hate speech is possibly only one of two criminal charges which require Attorney General consent – this is exactly meant to protect free speech.
Third, the writer self-admits that he has read the paper only twice. This is not enough to provide a thorough understanding about the content and its damage on society. In comparison, researchers, investigators and activist organizations like FSWC have studied all of the editions carefully over a number of published years, have tabulated the hateful content meticulously and have given careful consideration to the damage it incites in our community. We have also responded to countless calls from Jewish families, Holocaust survivors and members at large who felt personally victimized when the paper was target-dropped on their door step.
Fourth, the writer correctly asserts that “the one notable exception is when hate speech evolves from offensive words and personal beliefs, to the act of physical violence.” This is exactly the line Judge Blouin drew in his judgment (hate speech to physical action): referring to the 2018 Toronto van attack, he wrote, “there are, throughout the publication, sometimes subtle but unmistakable calls to actions.”
In those calls to action, says Judge Blouin, “the preeminent concern noted half a century ago, that hate propaganda could contribute to violence, is starkly relevant today. The Toronto van attack in April 2018, the Quebec mosque attack in January 2017 and the Pittsburgh synagogue attack a few months ago are all present-day displays of extreme hatred of identifiable groups. The extent to which hate propaganda, such as that which YWN publishes, bears responsibility in these cases, is still undergoing investigation.”
And thus, while the writer’s intent is worthy of attention and debate for the well-intentioned preservation of free speech, in this case, this was not a “blow(s) to free speech” as asserted, but a clear judgment against the promotion and incitement to violence – with an effort to protect the community.
Fifth, to state the obvious: to allow hatred to permeate our communities is irresponsible given our community’s historical experience. We are among the best equipped to stand on guard against incitement of hatred and to warn society about its possible consequence. If we relinquish control of hate against us and others to the marketplace of ideas, without challenge, historical evidence dictates that we will become its targets. The rising tide of antisemitism, the attack on Jewish institutions and persons at all levels of society dictate that we must be ever more vigilant.
For those who disagree, consider what the paper had to say about women:
“Most women are irrational, short-sighted, passive-aggressive traitors who cannot be trusted with a vote. That is why we keep electing charming assholes who sell us out to foreign interests, corrupt the morals of our society, and open the gates of our nation to ungrateful foreigners who seek rape, pillage and plunder out country.”
And on the subject of Jewish people, Judge Blouin states:
“Jews are often represented with satanic horns, reptilian features, drinking the blood of children and financers controlling the levers of power as puppeteers. There is an undeniable glorification of Adolf Hitler and extensive use of Nazi imagery….to add to that, to continually represent the extermination of six million Jews as a hoax and to specifically claim that Nazis never slaughtered people.”
Having witnessed the trial (and videotaped) the statements made by the editor at the media scrum following the guilty verdict, seeing him gloat and unremorseful about his actions and knowing that our fight has only begun, I am confident that justice was served for all Canadians. Given the lessons in history, our struggles over decades to put in place protective legal tools to fight antisemitism and hatred in this country and the incredible work done by all professionals involved in this process, we should be thankful that in this case we are better off without hatemongers victimizing our community.