Montreal neo-Nazi found guilty of promoting hatred

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)

A Montreal neo-Nazi who authored articles in a far-right publication under the pseudonym "Charles Zeiger" was found guilty Monday by a Quebec court judge of a single count of the wilful promotion of hatred.

The case hinged on a single article for a far-right online publication, the Daily Stormer, written in 2017, which Gabriel Sohier-Chaput, 36, claimed was satire.

Using antisemitic memes and editorial comments, the article entitled "Canada: Nazis Trigger Jews By Putting Up Posters On Ch--k Church," celebrated neo-Nazi posters pasted on a bus stop in British Columbia.

It also mocked a Holocaust survivor who had been interviewed about the incident, calling him an "oven-dodger," and called for "non-stop Nazism, everywhere, until the very streets are flooded with the tears of our enemies."

Quebec court Judge Manlio Del Negro called Sohier-Chaput "extremely dangerous to the public" and ordered he be handcuffed immediately.

"His behaviour goes against the values of our society," said Del Negro. "It's appalling that he can go anywhere in the world and hide behind anonymity with a keyboard."

The judge agreed with the Crown's argument that the phrase "non-stop Nazism everywhere" was inciting violence against Jewish people, since Nazism led to the Holocaust. The phrase, said Del Negro, is clearly inciting action and violence from readers.

The Crown also argued the Daily Stormer was a neo-Nazi publication, pointing to images of Adolf Hitler and swastikas pasted all over its homepage.

Sohier-Chaput's lawyer had argued people now throw around the word Nazi outside of its original meaning and that the prosecution should have brought forward witnesses and experts to define Nazism.

In his 72-page decision, Quebec court Judge Del Negro rejected the argument that Sohier-Chaput's writing was intended to be humorous, not hateful, and pointed out the defence didn't use any previously established defences against a hate-speech charge.

"After analyzing the defence, the court wholly rejects all of his explanations," he said. "[Sohier-Chaput] strategically spread these messages to couch hateful ideology."

"There is nothing ironic in the fact that millions of Jewish people and others were exterminated during the Holocaust orchestrated by the Nazis ... it is one of the saddest events in the history of humanity."

Del Negro also dismissed the argument put forward by Sohier-Chaput's lawyer that "genocide wasn't originally central to Nazism" and that the Crown needed to bring evidence forward to prove Nazis saw Jewish people as inferior.

"The defence submitted no proof, no historical evidence, no expert voice to push back against the accepted facts," Del Negro said. "It wanted to distort the facts."

The judge called this argument "a waste of judicial resources."

'Hate is not welcome here'

Montreal's Jewish community celebrated Monday's verdict, with some in attendance clapping and cheering as the judge announced Sohier-Chaput was guilty.

"The broad message we have here is if you see hate, call it out … it's not welcome here," said Eta Yudin, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), who was at the courthouse.

"I think it's a powerful message that we don't stand for this and as a society we won't stand for the banalization of the Holocaust and the normalization of hate or antisemitism."

However, Yudin said the case showed there is a need for more comprehensive Holocaust education in Quebec as two days of the trial were dedicated to debating whether the court should accept as a fact that the Holocaust happened because of the Nazis.

Marvin Rotrand, the national director of B'nai Brith's League for Human Rights, the organization that first filed a complaint against Sohier-Chaput, agrees with Yudin.

"The Holocaust does not need to be proved every time someone spreads denial," he said.

But he is encouraged that there is now a judicial precedent for online hate.

"This will be a judgment that sends a message that if you are going to spread hate online you will be found guilty," he said.

"The effects of harassing and targeting online are just as awful as doing it in person and the courts now recognize online hate is something that falls into the purview of the law."

Sohier-Chaput's case has been handed to a new defence lawyer, Antonio Cabral, following the ruling.

"He looked shocked," Cabral told journalists.

A report detailing Sohier-Chaput's psychological, emotional and social state has been ordered before sentencing.

His next court appearance, which will determine bail conditions like restricted internet access, is Jan. 25. He will be released until sentencing May 11.

Cabral said the fact that Sohier-Chaput does not have a criminal record, the events happened in 2017 and he respected all conditions set by the court means he will be released as soon as his father signs the proper papers.