Hate crime charges are rare, local police say, but ones the editor and the publisher of the controversial Your Ward News tabloid are now facing may be unprecedented.
James Nicholas Sears, the paper’s 54-year-old editor, and Your Ward News publisher, Lawrence (Leroy) St. Germaine, 76, were both charged on Nov. 15 with “wilful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group, namely Jews,” and “wilful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group, namely women,” according to Toronto Police Services.
A legal expert said one of those charges has never been laid before in Canada.
“I’ve never heard of any other charges [of that kind] so it’s my belief … that it’s the first time a person has been criminally charged for promoting hatred against women,” said Richard Warman, an Ottawa-based human rights lawyer, in an email.
According to the Department of Justice, as part of the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, effective March 2015, sex was included in the Criminal Code’s definition of an “identifiable group” in subsection 318, which addresses the promotion of genocide.
“With the passage of that legislation in 2015 and the further passage of An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code in June 2017, the term ‘identifiable group’ for the hate propaganda offences now includes any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability, gender identity or gender expression,” said Department of Justice spokesperson Ian McLeod in an email statement.
The charges come as a result of a sweeping police investigation involving the TPS Intelligence Services Hate Crime Unit as well as York Regional Police, Peel Regional Police, Durham Regional Police, and Barrie Police Service.
“It’s been investigated to death. We’ve investigated it for a long time because we’ve been getting complaints about them for a long time,” said TPS Const. Craig Brister. He added the charges were “not very common.”
Between March 2015 and June 27 this year police forces received multiple complaints concerning Your Ward News’ content and distribution, according to the TPS. The complaints prompted investigations from TPS and police services in other jurisdictions.
Const. Brister confirmed that police needed the approval of the attorney general to lay the charges. This process, which is a necessary step to charge suspects for hate crimes, can lead to delays sometimes but not always.
“Approval from the crown can be as simple as us calling the crown’s office and speaking to the head crown,” he explained. In this case, police had “the ability to be able to do the background work on” the investigation, Brister added.
If convicted, St. Germaine and Sears could face up to two years in prison or a fine, according to the penalties outlined in the Criminal Code of Canada’s Section 319, which deals with hate speech.
Sears and St. Germaine were charged separately this June for uttering threats after a justice of the peace heard a criminal complaint from Lisa and Warren Kinsella. The Kinsellas supported these new, broader charges. In fact, Lisa brought concerns over misogynistic messages in Your Ward News to police.
“This further serves to validate the point that you can’t talk about women in this way,” said Lisa, who penned an article last year for the Huffington Post about the Kinsella’s efforts “to keep a Neo-Nazi paper out of [the] neighbourhood” which included successfully lobbying the government to stop Canada Post from delivering the paper. A quasi-judicial federal review panel is considering an appeal from Your Ward News on that decision.
“What makes this case truly historic is not only are these charges unique, they’re unprecedented,” said Warren. “People are more sensitive to these issues, and recognize that women can be and often are the target of hatred and violence.”
In a statement to media, Sears said the charges are “politically motivated.”
More than one group advocating against anti-semitism welcomed news of the charges this week.
“We are pleased that criminal charges have finally been laid against the publishers of this hate-filled rag,” said Daniel Koren, a B’nai Brith Canada spokesperson, in a statement.
In a separate statement, the Legal Action Committee of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies lauded the police decision to lay charges.
“Unfortunately, white supremacists have been emboldened in recent months on university campuses and in small towns and cities,and these charges, we hope, will be a setback for those who peddle hate,” Benlolo said.
A court date has been set for Dec. 20 at 2 p.m. at College Park.