A B.C. man charged with promoting hate against a Congolese ethnic group after an investigation by Canada's war crimes program claims he is the victim of police persecution.
RCMP announced the rare charge against Kibwe Ngoie-Ntombe this week, nearly a year after they first arrested him and searched his Kelowna home in relation to a series of online videos attacking people he identified as Kasaian in the mining-rich province of Katanga.
Reached at his home Friday, the 52-year-old — who is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo — claims he was exercising his right to free speech on an issue that has nothing to do with Canada.
"My wife, she's Canadian, we have six children who are born here. The police, they came to my place, they took everything from us in the middle of the pandemic. They took even our six children's passports, they took the birth certificates. Canada abused me," Ngoie-Ntombe said.
"There's not freedom of speech in Canada. You cannot say what you want to say."
Canada not a launching pad for hate
In February, Ngoie-Ntombe was charged with uttering threats, having a forged U.S. social security document and counselling people to commit aggravated assault and arson.
The wilful promotion of hate charge required a sign-off from B.C. Attorney General David Eby.
Ngoie-Ntombe makes his next appearance in Kelowna provincial court on Tuesday.
His claim to free speech places him at odds with police, who say one of the central functions of the war crimes program is to ensure Canada can't be used as a safe haven for people to launch hateful tirades that might inspire attacks against marginalized people in other parts of the globe.
The program includes the Department of Justice, the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency, as well as Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
National Division RCMP Insp. Francois Courtemanche says the investigation into Ngoie-Ntombe began with a complaint to the Department of Justice, which determined that a criminal investigation was warranted.
Courtemanche wouldn't speak to the specifics of the case because of a bail-hearing publication ban.
"We're looking to ensure that Canada is not used as a launching point to distribute these messages of hate and to promote violence against marginalized ethnic groups, whether they be here in Canada or in other locations around the world," he said.
"We want to prevent individuals from being able to sit in their home, or in their basement, or even in the public library using the internet, and spreading messages of hate or using Canada or Canadian funds to be able to fund organizations that are attacking marginalized people."
A history rooted in colonialism
The terms of Ngoie-Ntombe's bail conditions limit his use of the internet and limit him to a cellphone that can only receive and make calls. He's allowed to use one laptop, but can't delete his browser history.
Ngoie-Ntombe is also forbidden from communicating with any members of the Katanga Independence Movement through social media, instant messaging services or chat rooms.
Simon Fraser University assistant professor Jason Stearns, who heads New York University's Congo Research Group, says the people Ngoie-Ntombe is accused of targeting are more accurately known as the Luba.
He says the Luba became prominent in the Belgian colonial administration. Many migrated to the mining hub in the southern part of Congo, which was known as the Katanga region.
Stearns said tensions between the Luba and other communities boiled over in the years following the Democratic Republic of Congo's independence in 1960, coming to a head in the 1990s with conflicts that resulted in serious human rights abuses.
"This expressed itself as a conflict between people who considered themselves to be indigenous to the mining-rich Katanga region and the Luba people — who they say were outsiders, even though the Luba had in some cases been there for several or many generations," Stearns says.
Stearns says the types of videos Ngoie-Ntombe is accused of making circulate in the area from time to time, particularly during elections, when candidates stir up ethnic tensions to gain votes.
Accused claims he acted in 'self-defence'
Many of Ngoie-Ntombe's videos remain on YouTube and Facebook, where he called himself Kibwe Katanga President.
He uses degrading terms in the videos to describe "Kasaians" and also calls for them "to go back home."
In an interview, Ngoie-Ntombe cast his actions as "self-defence" and said he was acting to prevent genocide.
A singer and entrepreneur, Ngoie-Ntombe says he has lived in Canada for 15 years and is married to a Canadian citizen, but has been denied residency several times.
He says he was granted asylum in Australia in the years before he came to Canada and would like to return to that country with his family now.
Ngoie-Ntombe claims there is no proof his videos have resulted in anyone being harmed.
Courtemanche said the RCMP's domestic investigators worked with liaison officers in the U.S., South Africa and Kenya, as well as with the Australian Federal Police.
None of the charges have been proven in court.
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