The murderous furor over The Innocence of Muslims has me wondering what would have happened if this defamatory movie had been made in Canada.
Would Canadian law, which makes hate promotion a crime, have prevented it from being made? Or at least distributed?
The crudely-made video that portrays the Prophet Mohammed as a drinker and philanderer who persecuted Christians has sparked protests across the Islamic world, including an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the American ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his staff.
U.S. authorities now say the man behind the film appears to be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who in 2010 pleaded no contest to federal bank fraud charges in California, sentenced to 21 month in jail and ordered to pay US$790,000 in restitution, according to The Associated Press.
Someone named Sam Bacile initially claimed to be the movie's writer and director but journalists quickly discovered the name was bogus. However, AP found a link between the cellphone number used by Bacile in interviews and the California house where Nakoula was tracked down.
And while Bacile claimed to be a Jew with ties to Israel, Nakoula turned out to be a Coptic Christian from California. He admitted working on logistics for the movie production company but no more.
But a check court papers filed in the 2010 fraud case turned up a list of aliases, including Nicola Bacily and Robert Bacily.
In that case, prosecutors said Nakoula set up fraudulent bank accounts using stolen identities and Social Security numbers, then funneled money from those accounts to others to which he had access, AP reported.
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Members of the cast and crew have disavowed the movie, saying Bacile/Nakoula duped them.
Actress Cindy Lee Garcia said she thought she was in a film about ancient Egypt called Desert Warriors.
"It was going to be a film based on how things were 2,000 years ago," she told Gawker. "It wasn't based on anything to do with religion, it was just on how things were run in Egypt. There wasn't anything about Mohammed or Muslims or anything."
The 80 members of the movie's cast and crew released a statement via CNN saying they were "grossly misled" about the film's intent and expressing sorrow for the violence, which continued Thursday with protests in Cairo and Yemen's capital, Sanaa.
"The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer," the statement said.
"We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred."
CNN reported that a casting call published in 2011 in Backstage magazine and other publications described the production as a "historical Arabian Desert adventure film."
An actress in the film, who did not want to be identified publicly, told CNN the original script did not include the Prophet Mohammed as a character and that she and other actors complained about their lines being changed.
She said she spoke to the producer who told her he wrote the script because "he wants the Muslims to quit killing."
Another member of the production staff who has a copy of the original script confirmed there were no mentions of Mohammed or Islam, CNN said.
[ More from The Daily Brew: Canada reviewing embassy security after U.S. ambassador to Libya, three staffers die in attack ]
The movie has sparked a debate in the United States over free speech protections under the First Amendment of the Constitution. U.S. law bans speech that directly incites violence but the bar is set very high because the free expression of ideas, even noxious ones, lies at the core of democracy.
For decades a section of the Criminal Code of Canada has outlawed wilful promotion of hatred against any identifiable group.
The law has been controversial, with supporters saying it curbs the worst excesses of hate speech but opponents arguing it's an ultimately useless infringement on freedom of expression.
The law has been used several times, perhaps most notably against Alberta high school teacher James Keegstra, who was convicted of brainwashing his students into believing a world Jewish conspiracy has controlled global events throughout history and that the Holocaust never happened.
Keegstra appealed his 1985 conviction, arguing it violated his rights under the Charter, but the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately upheld the verdict and the law, under the constitutional caveat that allows justifiable infringements.
But in a wired world, it seems doubtful to me Canadian law would have changed much in this new outrage. The film itself languished in justifiable obscurity for a year until an apparent sympathizer uploaded a portion of it, with Arabic translation, onto YouTube.