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Montreal hate-speech trial hears debate on whether Nazism directly caused Holocaust

Gabriel Sohier-Chaput walks the halls of the courthouse in Montreal on Monday, Feb.28, 2022. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Gabriel Sohier-Chaput walks the halls of the courthouse in Montreal on Monday, Feb.28, 2022. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

What started as a hate-speech trial of alleged Montreal neo-Nazi recruiter Gabriel Sohier-Chaput turned into a debate on whether knowledge of the Holocaust is beyond reasonable dispute Friday.

On July 8, defence lawyer Hélène Poussard argued people now throw around the word Nazi outside of its original meaning, and "genocide wasn't originally central to Nazism."

She doubled down on the argument today, saying the prosecution should have brought forward witnesses and experts to define Nazism.

While Sohier-Chaput, 36, scrolled on his phone in the prisoner's box, his lawyer argued the prosecution had put forward a dozen inflammatory headlines as proof, but not the articles themselves, making the proof incomplete.

Sohier-Chaput, who has admitted to writing between 800 to 1,000 articles for the far-right online publication the Daily Stormer under the pseudonym Zeiger, has pleaded not guilty to a single count of wilful promotion of hate propaganda against Jewish people.

If convicted, he could face up to two years in jail.

'Non-stop Nazism everywhere'

The case hinges on a single article entitled "Canada: Nazis Trigger Jews By Putting Up Posters On Ch--k Church," using a racial slur to refer to the Asian community.

Using antisemitic memes and editorial comments, the article celebrated neo-Nazi posters pasted on a bus stop in British Columbia and insulted a Holocaust survivor who had been interviewed about the incident.

"We need to make sure no SJW [social justice warrior] or Jew can remain safely untriggered," Sohier-Chaput wrote in the article.

"Non-stop Nazism, everywhere, until the very streets are flooded with the tears of our enemies."

Testifying in his own defence on March 1, Sohier-Chaput said he was using satire that young people familiar with online culture would understand. His goal, he said, was to use humour to end political correctness.

The Crown had argued the phrase "non-stop Nazism everywhere" was inciting violence against Jewish people since Nazism led to the Holocaust. It also argued the Daily Stormer was a neo-Nazi publication, pointing to images of Adolf Hitler and Swastikas pasted all over its homepage.

Poussard pointed to various dictionary definitions of Nazism, which she says aren't precise enough to support the argument that her client was inciting hatred. She said no clear evidence was brought forward to prove Nazis saw Jewish people as inferior.

"What we need to analyze is words and be careful of exact definitions," said Poussard. "To me saying Nazis exterminated six million Jews is not precise enough."

Quebec court Judge Manlio Del Negro responded by saying that if a reasonable and educated person knows these facts, which are easy to verify, a judge can take judicial notice — meaning no proof is needed to support it.

Poussard insisted she is not contesting that the Holocaust took place, but is opposed to the judge taking judicial notice of the facts rather than having them submitted as evidence in the context of the 2017 article.

Holocaust is a fact

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) says Poussard's arguments highlight the need for awareness of antisemitism and mandatory Holocaust education in Quebec.

"The Holocaust [has] been recognized by Canadian jurisprudence as a fact," said Emmanuelle Amar, CIJA's director of policy and research, who was at the hearing.

"The Holocaust is the most documented genocide in the world. It's been documented by its perpetrators, by their victims, by bystanders so it is a fact."

In a statement, CIJA called the discussion a "frivolous interlude."

"We really hope we can put this conversation to rest and that we can go back to the proceedings and have Sohier-Chaput be judged for the hate he was promoting online and the impact he has had on the Jewish community," said Amar.

The judgment will be rendered by Del Negro on Jan. 23, 2023.