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New Precedent Established in Hate Speech Punishments, Following B’nai Brith Advocacy

A sign pointing to Ontario’s Maplehurst jail (CTV News)

February 25, 2021

TORONTO – B’nai Brith Canada’s advocacy has just helped change the game and pave the way for harsher sentencing in hate-speech cases in this country.

Last year, our organization provided testimony in court during the trial of Matthew Wasikiewicz and Kyle Kroeplin of Burlington, Ont. – who were accused of plastering antisemitic and racist posters around the city, which included dehumanizing imagery and calls for physical violence against Jews. These actions violated section 319(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Our testimony outlined the impact that propaganda of this kind has on the Jewish community as a whole, and explained why these actions must not be taken lightly.

Last month, the court sentenced both men to conditional imprisonment for six months, followed by two years of probation, for wilful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group. The judge directly pointed to B’nai Brith’s community impact testimony, as well as that of Oakville Rabbi Stephen Wise and Dennis Scott of the Halton Black History Awareness Society, in explaining his decision.

The ruling has now been formally submitted and is on the record as a new precedent in Canadian law that will be weighed in future cases about hate speech and antisemitism. Judges can now take into account that not only human-rights organizations such as ours believe in harsh sentences for antisemitic propagandists – but that an objective Canadian court recognizes that jail time is an appropriate response to such actions.

Several factors, including COVID-19, will result in Wasikiewicz and Kroeplin serving their sentences conditionally, but the precedent remains absolutely clear. The Court accepts that “jail is very much within the range of appropriate sentence” for even less far-reaching instances of wilful promotion of hatred such as this.

The judge even went so far as to comment on the “very low-tech” nature of the crime and noted that the men “had no pulpit from which they preached their message of religious and racial hatred” – yet even for this small scale of reach, he still deemed their actions to be deserving of a harsh sentence under our existing hate speech laws. That is a resounding new legal reality that the promulgators of hateful materials against Jews and other minority groups will have to contend with when facing our courts from now on.

“This is an appropriate decision by the Court, and its impact on furthering the causes of justice and equality in Canada cannot be understated,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “We commend the Court for doing the right thing in recognizing the true seriousness of the crime and utilizing our existing laws to put a stop to it.”

“There is no room for hatred of this kind in Halton Region,” said Oakville Rabbi Stephen Wise. “Our local Jewish community thanks the court for seeing that justice is done, and B’nai Brith for its support and leadership throughout this process.”

Courts have occasionally meted out punishments in hate speech cases before – most notably in the highly publicized cases of Arthur Topham and Your Ward News, both of which B’nai Brith was also heavily involved in. However, this development likely marks the most direct and unequivocal punishment that lesser-known offenders without prior criminal records have ever faced in the Canadian legal system.