Canada Has A Defense Mechanism Against Bad-Faith Fascists

Canada Has A Defense Mechanism Against Bad-Faith Fascists

I was on my way to a ski lodge in Quebec, desperately trying to avoid a maze of potholes on a snowy, slick road, my kids excitedly chatting in the backseat, my wife giving me directions, when the radio grabbed my attention with a report so foreign I nearly drove my American ass into a snowbank.

The CBC, Canada’s public broadcasting news station, had a brief update on an ongoing criminal case that had made headlines nationally for some time: Gabriel Sohier-Chaput, a prominent neo-nazi and prolific poster on the hate site known as the Daily Stormer, had been convicted of “willfully promoting hatred.” A Montreal judge deemed Sohier-Chaput – who wrote his racist screeds under the name Charles Zeiger – “extremely dangerous to the public” and ordered courtroom police to handcuff him immediately after conviction. Sohier-Chaput will be sentenced in May.

A fascist going to prison for spreading fascist messaging? This, to my American ears, made no sense. The worst people in the US have for generations used the impenetrable bad-faith shield of free speech to spread their hate, infecting countless millions with loathing for a person’s immutable traits. American nazis have put marginalized groups in imminent danger for decades without repercussion, and continue to this day, with LibsofTikTok, Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire, and other outlets falling just short of telling their viewers to attack drag shows and other public LGBTQ events.

They can do this because in the US, you can say anything for any reason and it’s protected by the thoroughly-abused first amendment, the fountain from which all bad faith flows. If you’re wondering why free speech has become a bedrock right-wing issue, it’s because conservatives have made bad-faith free speech absolutism their Get Out Of Jail Free card. Forget for a moment that Republicans at every level of government make constant attempts to curb the speech of their political enemies.

So what was all this about a Really Bad Guy getting what he deserved in Montreal? Shouldn’t he be allowed to say anything he wants with no consequence whatsoever? Shouldn’t he be able to say the world should have a second Holocaust and whine about the first amendment when folks got mad? The concept nearly short circuited my brain.

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It also excited me. Just think of the possibilities: A criminal code that outlaws the spreading of hatred for ethnic groups, a way of draining the swamp of bad-faith politics that dominates the American political and cultural discourse. Canada’s federal criminal code indeed includes provisions on hate speech, allowing the government to issue fines, probation orders, and as in the case of “Charles Zeiger,” jail time. Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories have created civil sanctions for hate speech and hate publications in their human rights legislation. Human rights! They have human rights in Canada!

It gets better: The Supreme Court of Canada has outright rejected challenges to hate propaganda provisions in the nation’s criminal code. The Court – astoundingly, to this American brain – has acknowledged that the country’s hate speech provisions abridge free speech, but that the speech restrictions are legally justifiable under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Rights and freedom! They have rights and freedom!

Using the force of law to expunge fascists from civil society – for they have no place in a truly free nation – is enough for me to consider the long-held advice of my many haters and move to Canada, if they’ll have me.

‘Non-Stop Naziism Everywhere’

Sohier-Chaput, 36, writing under his very SS-sounding pseudonym, has published and edited several books that have proven increasingly popular among the western world’s resurgent nazi movement over the past decade. Over the years he took to the Daily Stormer to post hundreds upon hundreds of horrifying, racist screeds against Jewish folks and people of color and everyone else the nazi hates (curious how leading far-right intellectuals like Elon Musk talk incessantly about the “woke mind virus” without ever mentioning an actually harmful mind virus that creates pain and suffering the world over).

Sohier-Chaput was among the first high-profile nazis to embrace and promote the Atomwaffen Division, a terrorist organization consisting of various cells whose goal is total civilizational collapse. Atomwaffen Division members, known as white power accelerationists, have advocated for “bulldozing bodies into mass graves” as “the obvious solution” for dismantling multicultural societies and establishing a pure Aryan world order.

An offshoot of the once-popular nazi online forum known as Iron March, Atomwaffen Division members have conducted camps in which they would train with weapons, create propaganda videos that would spread on popular neo-nazi websites, and make plans for threatening ethnic minorities and journalists. They have allegedly been behind a series of racially motivated murders.

Truly sick shit, all the way down.

In his nazi writings, Sohier-Chaput made great efforts to promote this twisted “accelerationist” ideology as the cure for ridding the western world of its degeneracy (aka, black kids going to school with white kids). He once mocked a Holocaust survivor as an “oven dodger” and called for “non-stop nazism, everywhere, until the very streets are flooded with the tears of our enemies."

In 2017, as nazis across the western world were energized by the election of fellow traveler Donald Trump and the permanent defeat of the Republican Party’s squishy mainstream, Sohier-Chaput called for a “year of action” – one in which white men the world over would take their rightful place atop the societal hierarchy, by whatever means necessary.

2017 wasn’t that long ago, but let me remind you of the political environment in the months after Trump shocked even himself by winning the White House in what was, until Election Night, a campaign of pure, unadulterated grift: We had Steven Bannon and Stephen Miller using actual, real-life neo-nazi talking points in White House memos and speeches and press conferences; we had the Proud Boys and other fascist organizations recruiting mainline conservatives by the hundreds; we had nazis and nazi-adjacent men marching on Charlottesville, Virginia, viciously beating anti-fascists while the police stood around and had a good laugh.

This was before social media companies realized their algorithms were veritable nazi-making machines and took (some) steps to address the problem before Elon decided to waste $50 billion to ensure white guys could say racist shit on Twitter. 2017 was as toxic a year in politics as America has ever had, and Sohier-Chaput was thrilled about it. The prospect of “nonstop naziism” was tantalizing to deranged, dangerous people like Sohier-Chaput, or Zeigler.

Hate ideology doesn’t spread organically. It’s not a message that easily jumps from city to city, country to country, until millions of well-organized people are ready to fight – politically and otherwise – for an ideology of violent exclusion and racial purity. Hate is a sickness, and it must have willing spreaders if it’s going to proliferate – sick people ready and willing to sneeze and cough in the faces of potential allies until they too are infected with the hate, the worms burrowing into their brains.

Enter men like Sohier-Chaput, who carefully fostered hateful messaging among true believers and was known as early as 2017 as “one of the worst of the worst hate propagandists internationally.”

Sohier-Chaput has long been a vector for hate, and now he’s going to prison for it. There is justice in this woe-begotten world. Just look north of the border.

The Bad Faith Defense Has No Place Here

Like all nazi tough guys, Sohier-Chaput morphed into a sniveling dork when reaping what he had so gleefully sown. His attorney, who at one point during court proceedings described Sohier-Chaput as “repugnant,” appealed the Montreal judge’s conviction with a hodgepodge of bad-faith horse shit.

Sohier-Chaput was kidding, it was all in good fun, it was high-level satire, the lawyer said upon appeal. This should sound familiar to an American who has watched the country’s most prominent hate propagandists wriggle out of legal jams time and again by saying they were kidding, or were simply playing a character on TV.

Tucker Carlson has used this defense, arguing that – like, say, Daniel Day Lewis – he was method acting when telling millions of his low-information viewers that they were being invaded by black and brown hoards from the planet’s most uncivilized backwaters. The late, detestable Rush Limbaugh deployed this defense a handful of times in the 1990s and early 2000s, insisting his radio show -- the source of right-wing hatred for a generation of conservatives -- was satirical and should not be taken seriously. It’s all in good fun when I launch into an hour long screed about black people being subhuman or women needing to subjugate themselves to psychically and mentally superior men, Rush would say. Lighten up!

When Sohier-Chaput’s bad-faith nonsense didn’t work in the Montreal court, his attorney said Sohier-Chaput’s hate speech was in fact protected by Canadian law, to which the judge said absolutely not.

“The evidence in this regard is overwhelming. In closing, allow (myself) to make the following observation: the victims (Jews and other groups) of the Holocaust and also the victims of other genocides perpetrated throughout history, as well as their families deserve to be left in peace," Judge Manlio Del Negro said. "The suffering they have been put through is inexpressible and defies the meaning of humanity.”

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Though hate has never been explicitly defined in Canadian law, Supreme Court justices have waxed poetic about what they’re looking for when deciding if speech is protected by the country’s laws.

"Hatred is predicated on destruction, and hatred against identifiable groups therefore thrives on insensitivity, bigotry and destruction of both the target group and of the values of our society,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Dickson said in 1990. “Hatred in this sense is a most extreme emotion that belies reason; an emotion that, if exercised against members of an identifiable group, implies that those individuals are to be despised, scorned, denied respect and made subject to ill-treatment on the basis of group affiliation.”

In 2013, Supreme Court Justice Marshall Rothstein said speech that could lead to discrimination or violence against a certain group was the kind being snuffed out by Canadian law.

In my view, "detestation" and "vilification" aptly describe the harmful effect that the Code seeks to eliminate. Representations that expose a target group to detestation tend to inspire enmity and extreme ill-will against them, which goes beyond mere disdain or dislike. Representations vilifying a person or group will seek to abuse, denigrate or delegitimize them, to render them lawless, dangerous, unworthy or unacceptable in the eyes of the audience. Expression exposing vulnerable groups to detestation and vilification goes far beyond merely discrediting, humiliating or offending the victims.

Canada has what we might call a good-faith firewall against the poison of bad faith. The country’s criminal code does not include fascist speech as part of the accepted political landscape. Their speech laws do not concede ground to the most hateful, vile people who will deploy free speech in bad faith when confronted with the consequences of their heinous actions. There is no bothesidesism in Canada that includes neo-nazis “just asking questions” or “presenting another viewpoint” or “doing it for the lolz.” These monsters are rejected by the Canadian legal landscape, their viral hatred extinguished before it can spread to susceptible minds.

Free speech absolutism is the last refuge of the racist, of the homophobe, of the hater, and it cannot be allowed in a society that is free for everyone. Free speech can’t protect the most blatantly villainous members of society. These people and their despicable views cannot and should not be considered part of the societal fabric. Canada gets that.

Follow Denny Carter on Twitter at @CDCarter13.