Lawyers debate whether Nazism led to Holocaust, as Montreal hate speech trial resumes

MONTREAL — The lawyer for a Montreal man accused of wilfully promoting hatred against Jews argued in court on Friday that the prosecution failed to properly define Nazism or present evidence about what happened during the Holocaust.

Hélène Poussard told Quebec court Judge Manlio Del Negro that he could not take "judicial notice" of the fact that six million Jewish people were killed by the Nazis.

Facts presented in court can be "judicially noticed" when they are generally accepted or so notorious that a debate is not needed about them.

Poussard's client, Gabriel Sohier Chaput, 36, faces one charge of wilfully promoting hatred in connection with an article he wrote for neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer that said 2017 would be the year of "non-stop Nazism, everywhere."

Toward the end of Sohier Chaput's trial in July, Del Negro rebuked the prosecution for not calling an expert witness to establish that the murder of Jews by the regime of Adolf Hitler was a consequence of Nazi ideology. The judge called for a debate — which occurred Friday — about whether it is indeed common knowledge that the Daily Stormer is a far-right website and whether Nazism lead to a genocide against Europe's Jews.

On Friday, Poussard attempted to argue that the number of Jewish people killed in the Holocaust was not known, but Del Negro stopped her. He asked whether she was arguing that he should not take judicial notice of any part of the Holocaust.

"You are disputing the number?" he asked, about the genocide of six million Jews.

"I'm not disputing anything," she responded. "What I’m saying is that you don’t have judicial knowledge."

Poussard also argued that people who were not members of the Nazi party participated in the killing of Jews during the Second World War and that the meaning of "Nazism" in 2017 may be different than it was in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s.

The defence lawyer said the prosecution should also have called an expert witness to testify about how the Nazis saw the Jews as inferior, given that they also saw many other ethnic groups as inferior to Germans.

Prosecutor Patrick Lafrenière addressed the court briefly after Poussard. He said the judge could take judicial notice by using a reliable source for information about how the Nazis considered Jewish people to be inferior.

"One way for you to take judicial notice is by consulting a reliable, easily verifiable source,” he said, suggesting that the judge could look in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Outside the courtroom, Emmanuelle Amar, Quebec policy and research director at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the trial shows the need for mandatory education in Quebec schools about the Holocaust and antisemitism.

"The Holocaust is a fact, it’s been recognized as a historical fact by Canadian jurisprudence, but also, since this summer, Holocaust denial is now a criminal offence in Canada," she said in an interview Friday.

"The Holocaust is the most carefully documented genocide in the world, it was documented by its perpetrators, by their victims, by bystanders; there is physical evidence, there is all kinds of evidence of the Holocaust," she said. "It’s an undisputed fact."

Del Negro said he will deliver his verdict on Sohier Chaput on Jan. 23.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2022.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press