Jewish groups applauded the 15-month prison term given to a Montreal man found guilty of inciting hatred against Jews, saying its exemplary nature sends a strong message of deterrence to antisemites and other racists.
On Sept. 22, Quebec Court Justice Manlio Del Negro sentenced Gabriel Sohier Chaput to a far more severe penalty than the three months in jail recommended by both the defence and prosecution lawyers.
Following his incarceration, Chaput will be on probation for three years.
The judge’s decision comes more than five years after Chaput, 36, was charged with one count of wilful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group, an accusation that hinged on a single article that appeared under his pseudonym Zeiger in The Daily Stormer, a U.S.-based far-right online publication, in 2017.
After a trial heard intermittently since 2020 and which veered into legal arguments over the Holocaust, Del Negro this January convicted Chaput. The information technologist had pleaded not guilty, claiming that the article, which called for “non-stop Nazism everywhere until the streets are flooded with the tears of our enemies” and mocked Holocaust victims, was intended to be satirical. He also said he had not written all of what was published under his name.
Del Negro said that the three months agreed upon by the Crown and defence was far too lenient considering the gravity of Chaput’s offense. He faced a maximum penalty of two years in prison under the Criminal Code.
The judge said Chaput, who had no criminal record, continues to be a risk to society because he did not find that he had truly changed his hateful views or understood the harm caused by his “highly reprehensible” actions. Del Negro dismissed Chaput’s earlier apology as “opportunistic” and expressed doubt that the convicted man felt regret or empathy for those he hurt.
“Unfortunately, the years that have passed since the infraction was committed do not appear to have shaken his radicalized convictions,” Del Negro commented.
Chaput’s lawyer, Antonio Cabral disagreed, and said he will file an appeal this week.
B’nai Brith Canada made a complaint against Chaput in 2018 after The Montreal Gazette ran an investigative series that identified Chaput as an influential neo-Nazi recruiter. Chaput admitted to writing at least 800 pieces under the byline Zeiger or Charles Zeiger for The Daily Stormer during the two years preceding the publication of the article that led to his arrest.
“We hope the strong sentence Chaput has received will serve as a deterrent to other hateful individuals,” stated its chief executive officer Michael Mostyn. “This decision shows what should have been apparent from the very beginning: that promoting Nazism and calling for “action” against Jewish persons will not be tolerated in our society.”
Quebec regional director Henry Topas also commented, “This sentence is not only important for the Jewish community; it shows that the system works. It tells all Canadians—especially vulnerable minority groups—that they can trust the judicial process.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) also welcomed the sentence, but says the comparatively light sentence recommended by the prosecutor points to the need for supplementary legal training for Crown lawyers in hate crimes.
CIJA provided a statement to the court on the impact Chaput’s article has had on the Jewish community at a hearing in July, which was cited by Del Negro during the sentencing. Del Negro had earlier suggested to that the prosecution bring a Holocaust survivor to testify on the affect the article had.
Following the sentencing, CIJA Quebec vice-president Eta Yudin issued the statement: “As antisemitism continues to rise worldwide, the court’s guilty verdict in January, along with today’s sentencing, sends a message that the anonymity of the internet is no shield for those looking to promote hate.
“We are encouraged the court took seriously the criminal nature of Chaput’s vile online hate propaganda that featured antisemitic slurs, trivialized the Holocaust, and promoted hatred.”
CIJA is recommending that the government establish a training program that would equip prosecutors with a better understand of how to identify and sanction criminal hate.
At one point in the trial, Del Negro chastised prosecutor Patrick Lafrenière for not making a stronger case that Nazism led to the Holocaust, while cautioning then defence lawyer Hélène Poussard of going too far in her argument that appeared to question facts of the Holocaust, including the assertion that the Nazis’ decision to exterminate Jews was primarily economic.
At the sentencing, Del Negro again criticized lawyers on both sides for their joint agreement to put Chaput behind bars for only three months.
Last year, the Criminal Code was amended to include Holocaust denial as an indictable offence under section 319 (2.1).The law now stipulates that “denying or downplaying the Holocaust,” other than in private conversation, is an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for up to two years.
Under his sentence, considered one of the most severe in Canadian jurisprudence for a hate offence, Chaput is also prohibited from owning any weapons for 10 years following his release; accessing any social media; writing and publishing articles; being in the presence of people who express hateful ideology, including participating in protests that target people based on race, gender, sexuality, or religion; communicating with the editor of The Daily Stormer and any similar publication, and from leaving Canada.
In addition, the judge ordered that he undergo anger management therapy and other counseling designed to get him to abandon hateful ideology.