What is hate, and what isn’t?
What words are against the law, and what words are allowed?
Actions are easier to judge. When a six-year-old boy is stabbed to death for being a Muslim, Chicago police determined that it was homicide and charged a man. When a 69-year-old Jewish man is pushed by an anti-Israel protestor in California, and he smashes his head and dies, that is classified as a homicide, too.
Words are more difficult to judge, however – and much more difficult to prosecute. And since October 7, a day that will live in infamy – the day when Hamas committed the greatest act of mass murder against Jews since the Holocaust – words have become very important.
Here is a summary of just the past week, in just one province, Quebec:
• Synagogue firebombed
• Jewish community centre firebombed
• Two Jewish schools hit with gunfire
• Imam says Jews should be exterminated
• Anti-Israel protestor screams “kike” at Jewish student
• Professor calls Jewish student “a whore,” says go back to Poland
The first three incidents are clearly crimes. In those cases, thankfully, no one was hurt – the bullets and Molotov cocktails missed their intended Jewish targets. But, for police and prosecutors, those crimes indisputably are acts of terror – that is, and as defined in Canada’s Criminal Code, a political or religious act whose intention is “intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security.” Namely, Jews.
There are lots of terrorism-related sections in the Criminal Code. If prosecutors can’t convict the Hamas-lovers for simple intimidation, they certainly can do so because the firebombing and school shootings “intentionally endangers” lives and causes property damage.
Whoever is arrested, prosecuted and convicted for these obvious acts of terrorism can be imprisoned for life – and, in the case of non-citizens who commit serious crimes, they can be deported, too. It’s the law in Canada, and has been for years.
But what about words? What about the Quebec Imam who stood before 20,000 “pro-Palestinian” protestors in Montreal and said this:
“God, take care of these [Jews]. God, take care of the enemies of the people of Gaza. God, identify them all, then exterminate them. And don’t spare any of them.” The Jew-haters in the crowd cheered.
Now, are those words a crime? It sure looks like it. There are three sections in the Criminal Code that could apply: wilfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group (Jews), promoting genocide against an identifiable group (Jews), and willfully promoting anti-Semitism (which, of course, is always directed at Jews).
Every political leader ion Quebec has urged the police to go after the Imam who uttered those hateful words. So far, that hasn’t happened.
What about the woman who screamed “kike” at a Jewish student at Concordia University? Or the professor who called a Jewish student “a whore,” and told her to go back to Poland?
Those incidents are hateful and disgusting, but they may not reach the level of crime. As former Canadian Jewish Congress CEO Bernie Farber notes:
“Canada’s anti-hate laws are meant to balance our cherished rights of free speech with the dangers of hate speech. We have made the bar for hate speech high – as it should be. Nonetheless, we require trained police officers to enforce our hate laws. Without dedicated anti-hate units and the training that must accompany it, we will fight a losing battle.”
And, make no mistake: we are losing the battle. Since October 7, there has been an explosion in anti-Semitic hate incidents, everywhere. From open intimidation of Jewish businesses – to bullets being fired at Jewish schools – our social fabric is ripping apart.
And the haters – mostly on the anti-Israel side, to be frank – are doing most of the damage. Why can’t they bring themselves to hold the law assign – just one – condemning Hamas? Why can’t they hold an event – just once – demanding the release of the Israeli hostages?
They haven’t done those things, and it doesn’t look like they are going to do any of those things. They haven’t been deterred.
So, it is now time for the police, the prosecutors, and the courts to apply the principle of deterrence. It’s time to deter further acts of hate.
And, after being convicted, if some of the haters go to jail or are deported?
So be it.