Saskatoon police investigating flyers spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories

The Saskatoon Police Service are asking for anyone who has found antisemitic flyers, or who has relevant information or video footage, to contact its hate crimes unit. (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)
The Saskatoon Police Service are asking for anyone who has found antisemitic flyers, or who has relevant information or video footage, to contact its hate crimes unit. (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)

Police are working to figure out who distributed flyers promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories in Saskatoon.

Last week, the Saskatoon Police Service received reports of printed flyers being distributed in the city's north end, including along Whiteswan Drive in the Lawson Heights neighbourhood, in resealable plastic bags filled with popcorn shells.

Some of the flyers alleged that "every single aspect" of mass immigration, the media and abortion is Jewish. They each listed names of companies, organizations and/or individuals.

"They're harmful because they spread historically damaging conspiracy theories and stereotypes about Jews," said Daniel Panneton, director of allyship and community engagement of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, a non-profit organization committed to countering racism and antisemitism.

"The nature of the propaganda that's being spread has historically led to, and indeed implicitly calls for, violence against Jewish communities."

Saskatoon police do not know who distributed the flyers, nor at how many locations they were distributed, according to a news release.

The flyers play up far-right conspiracy theories of white genocide — that Jewish people are out to kill the white race — and that Jews are puppet masters of society trying to spread discord, Panneton said.

They appear to be linked to the Goyim Defense League — a small network, mainly based in the United States, that's connected by antisemitism and a belief in white supremacy, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an anti-hate organization.

The hate group is followed by thousands online, Panneton said.

The Goyim Defense League was the group responsible for displaying a banner supporting Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, and his antisemitic views on an overpass along a Los Angeles highway last fall.

According to the ADL's latest audit of antisemitic incidents, the Goyim Defense League has increased its antisemitic propaganda efforts. The flyers distributed in Saskatoon are similar to some reportedly distributed last year in the U.S.

The flyers in Saskatoon try to lead people to the hate group's video streaming website, which contains videos that push various conspiracy theories, particularly about Jews.

A disclaimer at the bottom of the flyers reads, "These flyers were distributed randomly without malicious intent."

Such propaganda is often used by few people to stoke fear in many people, making it seem like they're more organized than they really are, Panneton said.

He noted, however, that it doesn't take many people to spread hatred and cause shifts in what is acceptable discourse in society.

"If allowed to fester, this is the type of rhetoric that historically led to catastrophe," he said.

The Saskatoon Police Service's hate crimes unit investigator is on the case, but the variety in potential offences means the investigation process "can be a bit different" from other crimes, a spokesperson said.

The term "hate crime" is not explicitly defined in the Criminal Code of Canada, but there are several sections relating to hate propaganda — and specifically antisemitism. The court must also consider hate or bias motivation when imposing a sentence.

The Criminal Code states, for example, that anyone convicted of wilfully promoting hatred against any identifiable group through statements outside of a private conversation could face up to two years in prison.

Saskatoon's hate crimes unit unit uses a multi-layered approach — investigative, community outreach, intelligence gathering and analysis and education — according to the SPS website.

Saskatoon police are asking people who received the flyers, or who may have relevant information or video footage, to contact the hate crimes unit.

The number of hate crimes reported to police in Canada, including toward Jewish people, has risen drastically from 2014 to 2021, Statistics Canada data shows.

In 2014, police across Canada reported 213 antisemitic hate crimes. That increased to 487 in 2021, data shows.

In Saskatoon, total hate crimes reported to police rose to 25 in 2021 from one in 2014, data shows. StatsCan data did not show how many of those were directed toward Jews.