HRC Published In The Suburban: The Trivialization Of Hate Speech: The Dilemma Of Inadequate Sentencing

On July 26, 2023, Jade Levitt, our Director of Quebec, and Samuel Malamud, HRC’s Social Media intern, was published in The Suburban about the recent verdict in a Quebec court case of Gabriel Sohier-Chaput, a 36-year-old Montrealer who wrote articles willfully promoting hate against Jews in a prominent American Neo-Nazi website.

The Trivialization Of Hate Speech: The Dilemma Of Inadequate Sentencing

The recent verdict in a Quebec court case of Gabriel Sohier-Chaput, a 36-year-old Montrealer who wrote articles willfully promoting hate against Jews in The Daily Stormer, a prominent American Neo-Nazi website, has sparked an urgent and necessary conversation about hate speech and inadequate punitive measures in addressing this issue.

Sohier-Chaput’s article entitled “Canada: Nazis Trigger Jews by Putting Up Posters On Ch–k Church,” used antisemitic memes and editorialized commentary to celebrate neo-Nazi posters affixed to a bus stop in British Columbia. It also mocked a Holocaust survivor who was interviewed about the incident calling him an “oven-dodger,” and called for “non-stop Nazism, everywhere, until the very streets are flooded with the tears of our enemies.”

Judge Manlio Del Negro, the presiding judge in the case, questioned the Crown’s proposed three-month sentence for a man found guilty of promoting hatred against Jews, raising a critical concern: does such a lenient sentence trivialize the gravity and danger of hate speech?

A precursor oftentimes to discrimination, harassment, and physical violence, hate speech poses significant dangers not only to targeted individuals or communities, but to the fundamental values of our society. Hate speech is a destructive force that not only undermines individual dignity, but also threatens the fabric of societal harmony.

In a multicultural nation like Canada, the propagation of hate speech stands in stark contrast to our core values and legal principles, particularly the right to freedom from discrimination, under Article 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Of particular concern, we know that online hate can turn into real-world violence. Left unchecked, this is how antisemitism is normalized and weaponized.

The proposed three-month jail sentence by the Crown in this case is woefully insufficient. Such a brief punishment downplays the serious nature of the crime and fails to serve as an effective deterrent against similar criminal behavior. Sentencing in a criminal case should have multiple objectives: punishing the offender, deterring others, and providing an opportunity for rehabilitation.

Such a lenient sentence lacks proportionality as it sends an incorrect message about the seriousness of the offence and fails to deter others, who see that the consequences for such crimes are minimal, from committing similar offences. Accordingly, this sentence may actually embolden more hate speech and more hate crimes. In addition, such short sentencing prevents criminals from preparing adequately for their reintegration into society, therefore casting serious doubts on the authenticity of their rehabilitation and posing serious risks to the public, especially members of Canada’s Jewish community who remain the most targeted religious minority for hate crimes in our country. To his credit, Judge Del Negro called Sohier-Chaput “extremely dangerous to the public.”

Indeed, the Quebec court case provides a crucial opportunity to examine the efficacy of our current sentencing practices. In this context, the recommended three-month jail sentence sends a troubling message that the harm caused by hate speech is trivial and not worthy of greater sentencing and could set a dangerous precedent. Furthermore, it fails to recognize the profound societal and individual impacts of hate speech, in this case of the Jewish community, and risks the trivialization of this grave offence.

Hate speech is a serious offence that requires a robust response from our justice system. With sentencing taking place on September 22, the sentencing guidelines must be reassessed to reflect the gravity of hate speech so that we can strengthen the protection of our diverse society and reaffirm our commitment to upholding the values of inclusivity and tolerance that define our nation. This case serves as a clarion call of the potential harm that hate speech poses and our responsibility to respond appropriately, fostering the hope that it will catalyze a deeper examination of hate speech penalties in Canada.

Jade Levitt, Director of Quebec, HonestReporting Canada and Samuel Malamud, Social Media Intern, HonestReporting Canada


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