WARNING: This article contains language that some may find offensive.
A charge of wilful promotion of hatred has been laid against an Edmonton man, 67-year-old Barry Winters.
Edmonton police said Winters was arrested in connection with the operation of multiple hate-based websites, dating back to 2012. Police said the Hate Crimes Unit began investigating in June 2016, following multiple complaints related to allegedly hateful content published across several sites. He was arrested on June 1, 2017.
WATCH: A charge of wilful promotion of hatred has been laid against a 67-year-old Edmonton man. Sgt. Gary Willits with the EPS Hate Crimes Unit speaks about the accused’s blog and following.
“Basically, Winters had several blogs which he was authoring stories and derogatory words and comments towards certain individuals, political leaders,” Sgt. Gary Willits with the EPS Hate Crimes Unit.
“Some of these messages including wishing harm on the individuals and promoting, in some cases, wishing death upon them and promoting that they be killed.”
WATCH: Sgt. Gary Willits with the EPS Hate Crimes Unit speaks about hate crimes in Edmonton and the fact more people are feeling comfortable reporting hate crime.
The websites included daily posts that used strong, hate-based rhetoric that targeted various communities, according to Edmonton police. Some posts allegedly alluded to violent threats and harm against specific individuals.
“A lot of people have been hiding under the anonymity that they can make comments and not be held accountable for it, but we will hold you accountable,” Willits said.
“It’s one thing to post a comment – something you don’t like – but when you’re starting to promote hatred and threaten an individual, threaten harm upon an individual, and create a following, that’s when we’re going to start getting involved.”
Global News has learned Winters was the author of a blog called The Baconfat Chronicles.
The blog has since been taken down, but more than 600 posts were published when it was active targeting Muslims, First Nations, Palestinians, politicians, women, bullying victim Rehtaeh Parsons, victims of sexual abuse, media, the homeless, and those living with mental illness and addictions.
“Every community that you could think of. He went from political figures to certain races, genders to sexual orientation.
“Nobody was safe from his comments or hatred,” Willits said.
WATCH: Edmonton police said a man charged with wilful promotion of hatred was targeting “every community that you could think of.”
Police were alerted to the blogs by members of the community, including local transgender woman and LGBTQ advocate Marni Panas.
“You know when you see things online, when you see things spoken about a community or even greater society, you need to speak out because you don’t know when words are going to turn into actions,” Panas said. “When those words are directed at you personally, and your name is mentioned in that, that is particularly concerning. There’s a fear about, you know, do you come forward because are you going to be a bigger target?
“I’m already a visible person, I’m already a target so I get that — but people like this will work on that fear, and that fear silences you, and by remaining silent you remain vulnerable.”
Panas found the blogs while googling her name — something she said she does to see what is being said about her and other visible members of the transgender community.
“We’re seeing this culture shift where people have this moral license now to take their thoughts and put them into words, and those few that will take their words and put them into action. That’s very scary, and when it’s local — when you’re named and when other people are named in your community — that is a particular level of fear that is … not welcome,” she said.
WATCH: Marni Panas, an Edmonton LGBTQ advocate, came forward in 2016 after reading comments about herself on a website now the subject of a police hate crime investigation.
Some of the titles of Winters’ posts include NO MORE MUSLIMS, NO MORE MUSLIMS, NO MORE MUSLIMS, #Ibelievesurvivors NOPE! They’re All Lying Sluts and Thank Goodness Rehtaeh Parsons is dead.
Parson’s parents, Glen Canning and Leah Parsons were mentioned several times, with posts accusing them of cashing in on their daughter Rehtaeh’s death.
Wilful promotion of hatred is an indictable offence and, if convicted, the accused could spend up to two years in prison. The charge is rare and can’t be instituted without the consent of the Attorney General. Willits said Edmonton police researched the charge and could not find the last time it was laid in the city.
WATCH: Police in Edmonton say they are working with police across Canada on the investigation.
Tuesday, Statistics Canada released the number of hate crimes that happened across the country in 2015, showing a five per cent increase from a year earlier. Alberta alone helped boost those numbers with a 39 per cent jump: 193 incidents in 2015 compared to 139 in 2014.
Edmonton saw the biggest jump of Canada’s largest cities, with 45 more incidents in 2015 over 2014. The city also had the sixth highest number of reported hate crimes, at six for every 100,000 people.
WATCH: A 67-year-old Edmonton man has been charged with wilful promotion of hatred in connection with the operation of multiple hate-based websites, dating back to 2012. A veteran police officer said no one was safe from the comments being made on the blogs police uncovered. Quinn Ohler reports.