Dehumanizing Propaganda and Freedom of Speech—a New Case in Canada

Russell Blackford

A recent Canadian case, The Queen v. Sears and St. Germaine, involved the now-familiar issues of free speech, dehumanizing propaganda, and public expression of hatred. Decided in late January 2019, the case ended with convictions for James Sears and LeRoy St. Germaine, the editor and publisher, respectively, of Your Ward News (YWN), a loathsome “community newspaper” with perhaps as many as a million readers. Sears and St. Germaine were on trial for the crime of “wilful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group” (in this case, Jews and women).

Twenty-two issues of YWN were published from 2015 to 2018. Much of its content was anti-Marxist and focused on attacking left-wing politicians. However, as detailed in the court’s judgment, there was also a relentless stream of pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic, anti-feminist, and savagely misogynist propaganda. Much of this involved dehumanizing representations of Jews and women, and it seems that much of it could reasonably be interpreted as inciting violence. At the same time, some of YWN’s content appears to have been no more (or less) than advocacy of extreme and unpopular ideas. These ranged from Holocaust denialism and adulation of Adolf Hitler to toxic opinions about feminism and gender roles.

Previous Canadian cases had found the relevant provision of the Criminal Code to be constitutional, but this required construing the code’s bland words in a narrow way. In 1990, the Supreme Court of Canada held that hatred is an extreme and intense emotion associated with vilification and detestation and that it implies that the hated individuals should “be despised, scorned, denied respect, and made subject to ill-treatment” based on their membership in the hated group.

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