By Amy Sharaf
The man charged with spreading anti-Islamic material at Ryerson could face serious hate crimes charges, if the Ontario government gives Crown attorneys permission to prosecute.
Members of the Toronto police hate crimes unit will present their case to Attorney General Michael Bryant for approval to charge 21-year-old Kevin Haas with hate crimes.
Det. James Hogan of the Hate Crimes Unit said that once the evidence is examined, Haas could face charges of wilfully promoting hatred and/or advocating genocide.
It is up to Bryant to decide whether or not to go ahead with the charges. Hogan and the hate crimes team presented only two cases to the crown attorney in the last year. Both were accepted. He said that while people have the right to have offensive opinions, there is a fine line between what people can express in their homes and what they can express publicly.
“We’re entitled to hate, unfortunately, but we’re not entitled to expose other people to it and thereby spread that hate,” he said. “It’s not a crime to put a poster on the wall unless the message is criminal, a threat to someone, or it’s hateful.”
Undercover security officials caught Haas allegedly posting racist literature outside the office of the Arab Students Association, on Oct. 18. He has been charged with two counts of threatening death and seven counts of mischief under $5,000.
Hate crimes prosecution is rare in Canada and Peter Rosenthal, a law professor at the University of Toronto, said that permisson to prosecute is necessary to limit the number of charges laid. “[There are] concerns that because of racial tensions there might be too many charges laid under that section…If any crime is motivated by racial hatred than that is aggravated in sentencing,” he said.
Hate crimes are generally categorized as any crimes motivated by racial or hateful motivation and range in severity from hatefully motivated acts to advocating genocide and wilfully promoting hatred.
Wilful promotion of hatred under section 319 (2) of the Criminal Code carries a maximum two-year sentence. Advocating genocide, section 318, is the more serious offence, and carries a maximum five-year sentence.
Hogan said technology has changed the way hateful messages are expressed. “Historically, it was books and pamphlets. Now it’s e-mails and websites,” he said. According to Hogan, no more than 15 cases were approved for hate crimes prosecution and went to trial in Canada since hate crimes provisions were added to the Criminal Code in the early 1970s.
Few people are charged with hate crimes, and Hogan said a small number of arrests are made. “It’s kind of an anonymous crime-you didn’t have to stand around and take responsibility for it,” he said. “Not a lot of people who do these things are caught, unfortunately.”