The trial of a Montreal man accused of inciting hatred against Jews on a far-right website turned into an exchange between the prosecution and the defense over whether Nazi ideology was at the root of the decision to exterminate Jews.
Quebec Court Justice Manlio Del Negro reproached both lawyers during the July 8 hearing: Crown prosecutor Patrick Lafrenière for not proving his case that the Holocaust was an indisputable consequence of Nazism and defense lawyer Hélène Poussard for “going too far” when she suggested Jews were exterminated because the Nazi regime found it too expensive to keep them interned or to deport them and not because Nazism per se called for it.
After a four-month pause, the trial of Gabriel Sohier Chaput resumed with Lafrenière making closing arguments that the accused is guilty of the one count of willfully promoting hate against an identifiable group with which he is charged.
Chaput, who watched the proceedings by videoconference, faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison if convicted.
The sole evidence entered against him is a January 2017 article Chaput has admitted writing under the alias Zeiger in the U.S.-based online publication The Daily Stormer in which he urged “non-stop Nazism everywhere” and violent action against “enemies.”
The headline, referring to an incident in Vancouver, was “Canada: Nazis Trigger Jews by Putting Up Posters on Ch-k Church,” using a racist slur for Asians.
Chaput, 35, a former IT consultant, earlier testified that he had written up to a thousand pieces for The Daily Stormer over 2016 and 2017.
The trial was recessed in March after Poussard made her final argument lasting four hours that the article was “satirical”; it may be in bad taste and her client may hate Jews, but he did not willfully promote hate as defined by law, she said.
Chaput was revealed to be Zeiger in a series of articles published in the Montreal Gazette in May 2018, which relied heavily on information from a Montreal antifascist group that identified Chaput as one of the most active neo-Nazis in North America and who had attended the deadly white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
A warrant for Chaput’s arrest was issued in November 2018 following a complaint filed by B’nai Brith Canada, but his whereabouts were unknown for some time. He made his first court appearance in August 2020.
Lafrenière stressed that it is clear that The Daily Stormer was a forum for racist neo-Nazi propaganda, with three million subscribers at the time, and that Chaput knew the article in question would spread hatred of Jews given its trivialization of the Nazi era.
“For a reasonable person, there is nothing in the format or the words that leads one to think that it’s a joke. It is the promotion of Nazism,” said Lafrenière, noting that the article is accompanied by Nazi imagery and a cartoon of a smiling guard activating a gas chamber.
Chaput wrote: “2017 is the year of action. We must be certain no SJW (social justice warrior) or Jews can stay safely untriggered. Nazis everywhere until the streets are flooded with the tears of our enemies.”
Lafrenière said, “That goes much further than offensive and hurtful remarks.”
He said Chaput’s claim that readers would realize the article was not meant to be taken literally is not credible. “It is impossible that as articulate, informed and intelligent guy as the accused did not think that his words, if they fall into the hands of racist people, are not going to add to the detestation of Jews. He is being willfully blind.”
In any event, Lafrenière said satire is not a legal defense against a criminal hate charge.
Del Negro interjected that “being racist is not a crime…The comments of the accused for the most part are racist, misplaced, rude and inappropriate. That’s sure and certain, but does that constitute a crime?”
He admonished Lafrenière for not bringing in an expert witness, like an historian, to demonstrate a direct line can be drawn between Nazism and the Holocaust.
Lafrenière said it is an established fact that Jews were persecuted under Nazism and that six million were killed.
In her retort, Poussard argued against automatically conflating the term Nazism with the extermination of Jews, and that it is debatable that the killers acted as they did because they were Nazis.
She said she learned in school that the Nazis did not originally plan to exterminate Jews, but that someone close to Hitler proposed it because it would “save money” compared to keeping them in the camps, that it was “cheaper to gas these people,” at which point Del Negro told her to stop because what she was saying was not “reasonable” and that she had “gone too far.””
Del Negro asked that at the next session of the trial a determination be made as to whether Nazism’s role in the Holocaust is a matter of judicial notice, that is, a fact so well established that it cannot be reasonably doubted.
The parties will next meet on Aug. 29, at which time a date will be set for the trial to continue.