Legal Responses to Antisemitism: Legal Discourse and Anti-Jewish Hate in Contemporary Canada

Thesis Submitted to the University of Ottawa

In October 2018, a Montreal man named Robert Gosselin was arrested and charged with inciting hatred for posting comments on social media in which he threatened to kill Jewish schoolgirls. Originally released on bail, Gosselin was eventually found to be mentally unfit, which meant he was held not criminally responsible for his actions.1 In January 2020, Shane Morrow went to visit his 65-year-old uncle at a residence in Toronto. His uncle suffers from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes. Morrow was shocked to find a swastika drawn in black marker on his uncle’s scalp. A staff at the residence informed Morrow that there was a swastika drawn on his uncle’s body as well, which was supposedly removed before Morrow arrived. While Morrow was assured that an arrest had been made, no police report had been filed for that address.

More than 13,243 antisemitic incidents have been reported across Canada since 2012. These are just two of them. 3 Annual reports from Statistics Canada on police-reported hate crimes have consistently, for over a decade, named anti-Jewish hate as the largest type of religiously motivated prejudice in Canada.4 This is a persistent, dangerous, and frightening trend.5 B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy and non-profit group annually produces the country’s only audit of antisemitic incidents. They track each year’s number of incidents, type, and frequency. The audit is the only comprehensive source of information about the nature of contemporary antisemitism in Canada. Unfortunately, this form of prejudice is severely understudied in Canada, with much of the academic literature focusing on historical analyses and providing descriptions of its general characteristics and implications.

Statistics Canada also provides comprehensive data about hate crimes annually. To clarify, B’nai Brith’s audit focuses solely on antisemitism and incidents in general; these are not necessarily prosecuted as hate crimes. Statistics Canada provides data on all types of hate crimes, categorized as such by police. Evidently, only a fraction of all incidents are charged as hate crimes. This explains why Statistics Canada’s numbers are much lower than those of B’nai Brith. Both inform my discussion about antisemitism in contemporary Canada.

This thesis will focus on antisemitism over the past 12 years (2008-2020). As the data shows, antisemitism is growing and remains a serious problem in Canada.