Expect Elmasry to get Away with Outrage

January 2005

The hate-crime investigation underway by the Halton Regional Police against Mohamed Elmasry, the president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, is both wrong and pointless.

This is not to suggest that Elmasry is innocent of hate-mongering. Quite to the contrary: Nothing could be more clearly and incontrovertibly hateful that his monstrous assertion on the Michael Coren television show that all Israeli citizens over the age of 18 are fair targets for assassination by Palestinian suicide bombers.

Granted, Elmasry now claims that he "was presenting not his own views -- but those of a significant segment of Palestinians under occupation." But this excuse will not wash. In an interview with the Globe and Mail three days after the television show, he reiterated as his own the view that all adult Israelis are legitimate targets for death. "Israel has a people's army and a draft," he argued, "and therefore they should be considered legitimate targets."

Section 319 of the Criminal Code provides that every one who, by repeated public statements, willfully promotes hatred against any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation is guilty of an offence punishable by up to two years in prison. On the face of it, the crown should have no difficulty in proving Elmasry's guilt under this section.

Nonetheless, Elmasry can rest easy. Section 319 includes a special provision stipulating that a hate-propaganda charge can only proceed with the consent of the attorney general. Given that Elmasry is the most prominent Muslim spokesman in Canada, it's most unlikely that the McGuinty Liberals will consent to having him prosecuted for hate propaganda.

Evidently, Elmasry also has nothing to fear from the Canadian Human Rights Commission. So far our national thought police have shown no disposition to cite him for violating the ban in section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Code on the repeated communication on television or over the internet of "any matter that is likely to expose a person or group of persons to hatred or contempt" by reason of that person's or persons' "race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted."

Canadians who insist that Elmasry should be indicted for propagating hatred and contempt for Israelis ought to ponder the implications: In the heat of debate over Palestinian terrorism, who might be charged next?

Alan Borovoy, general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, cites several questionable hate-propaganda proceedings in his book The New Anti-Liberalism. For example, in the 1980s, an Arab organization charged a mainstream publisher with promoting hatred for Arabs by publishing the Haz, a pro-Zionist novel by Leon Uris.

No one has yet been convicted in a dubious hate-propaganda case, but that's no reason for complacency. Borovoy warns: "Freedom of speech is undermined not only by the convictions that are ultimately registered but also by the prosecutions that are initially threatened. If we cannot speak our minds publicly without the fear of facing a criminal charge, we are not enjoying a meaningful freedom of speech."

Note that Borovoy is referring only to prosecutions for so-called hate propaganda. He agrees that anyone who crosses the line into outright subversion or incitement to violence should be charged, prosecuted, convicted and jailed under the pertinent provisions of the criminal code.

What, then, should be done about the likes of Elmasry? The best remedy lies with decent citizens: They should unequivocally denounce his hateful views. They should cut off relations with him. They should warn others against him and advocate the withdrawal of all honours from him.

Stockwell Day has done his part, by calling upon the Canadian Islamic Congress to fire Elmasry as president. Day has also observed that many Canadians fear "that Muslims in general accept the view that slaughtering the innocent is acceptable. Unless this guy is unceremoniously punted out of his position and unless there are very strong and clear statements refuting what he says, then that fear that many Canadians have will unfortunately grow."

Meanwhile, the board of directors for the Canadian Islamic Congress has unanimously refused Elmasry's resignation.