Charges following Calgary weekend rally rare according to criminal expert

Pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protests are pictured outside Calgary City Hall on Nov. 5, 2023. Calgary police have charged one man with causing a disturbance and a hate motivation has been applied after police said the man used an "anti-Semitic phrase.". Global News

Editor’s Note: Wesam Cooley’s lawyer confirmed to The Canadian Press on Nov. 17 that the charge against his client had been stayed.

Calgary police say that during a rally on Sunday a man took to the stage to speak to the large crowd in attendance and that he repeatedly used an antisemitic phrase while encouraging the crowd to follow along.

After consultation with the Calgary Police Service hate crimes coordinator, the man was charged with causing a disturbance and hate motivation has been applied to the charge.

On Tuesday, police announced Wesam Cooley was charged following the Sunday protests supporting Israel and Palestinians.

The phrase in question has been used in pro-Palestinian circles and political movements since the establishment of the modern state of Israel.

The Calgary Jewish Federation is thanking the Calgary Police Service for “taking swift action against the protester who was publicly inciting hate.”

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“This arrest will hopefully set a precedent not only in Calgary but in other cities,” reads a statement from the Calgary Jewish Federation. “There has been an alarming increase around the use of known antisemitic phrases, and it is important that they are being called out as hate speech and prosecuted as such.”

A national Muslim organization said it was following Cooley’s arrest and charge with “great concern.”

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“Our initial review of the facts suggests a grave overreach of Calgary police in this instance,” the National Council of Canadian Muslims said. “To be clear, non-violent and peaceful protests about Palestinian human rights should never be criminalized.”

The group will be retaining legal counsel to ensure that the individual has a right to a fair trial.

Mount Royal University justice studies professor Doug King said causing a disturbance is a relatively infrequent charge, especially combined with hate motivation.

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Jewish and Palestinian community members in Alberta worried about Israel violence

“I’ve never heard it being used as in this environment, in terms of hate motivation as a factor,” King said on Thursday.

One local activist said Calgary’s Muslim community has been affected by the charges.

“This arrest and the subsequent charges sends a foreboding message to our community,” said Calgary activist Saima Jamal. “To label this as an offensive or antisemitic act is a grave misjudgment that only serves to deepen divisions and stifle necessary conversations.”

Jamal is asking Calgary Police to consider the gravity of this situation and drop all charges

“We cannot allow others to define for us what our words mean,” Jamal said.

In a statement clarifying the charges, CPS reiterated they “police behaviour and not beliefs” and officers are mandated with the safety of protesters, the public and police.

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“The circumstances and full context of the behaviour of the individual involved was considered in laying the charge of causing a disturbance and in applying hate motivation to that charge. The behaviour that led to charges was considered in the context of the specific situation, all of which is broader than a single phrase, gesture, sign or symbol in isolation.”

Urge Amazon to Pull Products Featuring Genocidal Slogans

Last week B’nai Brith said online websites were facilitating the sale of products in Canada that contain antisemitic slogans.

The group said since the attack on Israel, vendors on the site have increasingly advertised merchandise with the phrase it claims is a “a favorite slogan of Hamas, calling for the ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Jewish people.”

“Ultimately the question is, is it responsible for a company to be profiting off merchandise that is traumatizing people who have witnessed unimaginable violence against family, friends and community? It seems pretty hard to justify,” said Christie Stephenson, executive director of the Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics at UBC Sauder School of Business.

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King said he doesn’t think it’s all about the phrase the man arrested in Calgary was saying.

“I think it is the impact on the crowd and how people who were part of the rally started to feel,” he said. “There’s going to have to be some kind of explanation by the Crown as to why they believe this to be antisemitic. The phrase, from my interpretation, could be interpreted as antisemitic, but you’re going to have to prove that in a court of law. You can’t take it as a given.”

Cooley will next appear in court on Dec. 12.

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