Suspected Montreal ‘neo-Nazi’ recruiter stands trial for hate propaganda

The trial begins Monday for a suspected neo-Nazi who allegedly wrote articles in far-right publications and other online forums under the pseudonym “Charles Zeiger” while recruiting like-minded people from his port of call. attached to Montreal.

Five days have been reserved for Quebec legal proceedings against Gabriel Sohier-Chaput, 35, who faces a single count of willfully promoting hate propaganda. If convicted, the crime carries a maximum of two years in prison.

Sohier-Chaput reportedly published articles in the far-right publication the Daily Stormer and posts in forums like the defunct Iron March. Both platforms regularly used racist, sexist and homophobic slurs, and promoted conspiracy theories, as well as coverage of what they called the “race war” and the “Jewish problem”.

Far-right researchers said the Daily Stormer and Iron March targeted young male audiences across Canada and the United States, using memes, images, inside jokes and culture to spread their ideology.

This separated them from other Quebec-based extremist groups like La Meute or Storm Alliance, which generally attracted French-speaking nationalists over the age of 40.

This man identified as “Zeiger” appeared on a website called Blanche Europe (White Europe). He was unveiled in a series of articles in the Montreal Gazette as a Montreal computer consultant named Gabriel Sohier-Chaput. (Submitted by Shannon Carranco)

Sohier-Chaput was named in a series of articles from Montreal Gazette in 2018 who allege he participated in neo-Nazi recruitment in Montreal and attended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017.

The rally brought together neo-fascists, white supremacists, Klansmen and others, and one right-wing extremist deliberately rammed into a crowd and killed 32-year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer.

The Gazette investigation also indicates that Sohier-Chaput was responsible for digitizing a 1980s manifesto named SIEGE, which called for the creation of a white ethno-state through violence.

Following the publication of these articles, B’nai Brith Canada filed a complaint against Sohier-Chaput with the Montreal police.

An arrest warrant was issued in November 2018, but by then Sohier-Chaput was no longer in Montreal. He made his first appearance before a judge two years later, in November 2020.

“There can be no place for white supremacy or hatred of any kind in the Canada of today,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said in a statement. approaching this week’s trial.

The man who called himself Charles Zeiger appears in footage from the infamous white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. (Submitted by Shannon Carranco)

High burden of proof

Convictions for willfully disseminating hate propaganda are rare in Canada. Section 319(2), the relevant section of the Penal Code, defines hate propaganda as speech that questions the humanity of people.

The challenge is to prove that intent beyond a reasonable doubt.

When a person files a complaint alleging hate speech, the police must decide whether a hate crime has taken place. They then forward the file to a Crown prosecutor who decides if there is proof of hateful intentions. If the Crown decides that what the police have provided does not prove hateful intent, charges are not laid.

It is more common to see hate crimes taken to human rights tribunals, where complainants can seek compensation.

Canada has seen an increase in online hate speech. According to a study on extremism in Canada by a London-based think tank, the number of hate groups operating in the country has tripled since 2017.

The report shows that Montreal and Toronto had the most Iron Step users in Canada. In Quebec and Alberta, he found, militia movements train their members in weaponry, paramilitary tactics and survival strategies.

Some hate crime researchers and lawyers argue that because the burden of proof is high, the Criminal Code provisions are not strong enough to deter people from participating in hate speech.

“Police are incredibly reluctant to bring charges under s.319(2), and when they do it can take 18 months and then the case can take a long time and the penalty they get is a slap on the wrist,” said Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

“For truly committed hatemongers, that’s no deterrent. Why would it be?”

However, others believe the outcome of the Sohier-Chaput trial will be crucial in reshaping public opinion and far-right perceptions.

“In Quebec, in general, far-right movements are ethno-nationalist, therefore less violent but very racist. But if someone brings in Nazi talk, now we’re talking about violence,” said Denise Helly, a law professor at the National Institute for Scientific Research.

Frédérick Nadeau, a researcher at the Center for Expertise and Training on Religious Fundamentalism, Political Ideologies and Radicalization – a Quebec group that studies radicalization movements – said the outcome of this case is important because it will test the limits of online anonymity.

“Up until now, the authorities have tended to downplay the violence these groups represent, and slowly we are seeing that there is an awakening of the threat,” he said.

“I think this lawsuit can be meaningful in showing that we take the threat seriously and that there are consequences even if people think online anonymity protects them, it doesn’t.”

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