Closing arguments underway in trial of Montreal man charged with inciting hate

Gabriel Sohier-Chaput, centre-left, is pictured wearing a Daily Stormer t-shirt. Submitted by Shannon Carranco

Lawyers for a Montreal man charged with fomenting hatred against Jewish people in a blog post on a far-right website told a judge Friday that the article falls short of what’s needed for conviction.

Gabriel Sohier-Chaput, 35, who went by the online moniker Zeiger, is facing one count of wilful promotion of hatred in connection with a post from January 2017 on the website Daily Stormer.

Sohier-Chaput admitted to writing part of the blog post, but he testified that Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin allegedly added elements to the article before publishing, including some of the cruder references toward Jewish people.

On the stand earlier this week, Sohier-Chaput argued the blog post was a “joke” intended to upset people who are “politically correct.”

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Defence lawyer Helene Poussard told the court Friday that inciting hatred is not simply about injuring an identifiable group with words, but convincing an objective person to detest or discriminate against that group.

Poussard said that while the blog post was in poor taste, it does not lead the reader to that point.

“I don’t find it funny; I find it shocking and I can’t understand how someone can be amused by this,” Poussard said. “But I don’t see by reading this text that I can come to the conclusion that Jews could be subject to detestation.”

Montreal police investigating the accused identified about 800 posts, including some podcasts, under the pseudonym Zeiger. Sohier-Chaput himself admitted to authoring or researching 800 to 1,000 articles for the Daily Stormer.

But Poussard noted the Crown only used a single article to mount its case.

The blog post at the heart of the case refers to a 2017 Global News article about Nazi posters showing up in New Westminster, B.C., and about a Holocaust survivor’s reaction to the hateful imagery. The blog post includes racist images and comments about Jews throughout.

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“We need to make sure no SJW (social justice warrior) or Jew can remain safely untriggered,” the Jan. 23, 2017, post read in part. “Non-stop Nazism, everywhere, until the very streets are flooded with the tears of our enemies.”

Sohier-Chaput testified that he chose wording that was “exaggerated” and “poetic” in order to mock people who he felt were too sensitive and who branded those with whom they disagree as Nazis.

He said he felt Daily Stormer’s mission was to “disarm the left” through irony, absurdity and humour, adding that a “rational” person would not take its content literally.

“He has convictions, he has opinions, he has the right to have these opinions and convictions even if we don’t share them,” Poussard said. “He has the right not to like Jews and not like Blacks and the entirety of humanity if he doesn’t want to. What he doesn’t have a right to do is foment hatred in public — the rest doesn’t matter.”

The trial before Quebec court Judge Manlio Del Negro heard from a total of three witnesses over two days this week, including the accused.

In his opening statement, prosecutor Patrick Lafrenière said he believed that Sohier-Chaput was responsible for the article and that ultimately, the court would have decide whether the content was fomenting hate against an identifiable group.

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Lafrenière will deliver the Crown’s final arguments on July 8.

Conviction on the charge carries a maximum two-year sentence.

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