A notorious protester convicted of wilfully promoting hatred against Muslims and criminally harassing a Muslim man and his family was sentenced Tuesday to nine months in jail.
Eric Brazau handed out a flyer that “vilified Muslims and disparages their religion,” Ontario court Judge S. Ford Clements said in February, when he found Brazau guilty.
The case was far from being on the borderline between “rough and tumble debate” and hate speech, as Brazau had argued, Clements said in a College Park courtroom.
Brazau handed out the flyer, which contained many offensive references to Islam and Muslims, in August and September 2012. While distributing it, Brazau sometimes yelled obscenities about Islam “in a tone of voice that suggested he was very angry and had little interest in debate,” Clements said.
Brazau had argued that he did not intend to promote hate speech; instead he wanted to stimulate debate about censorship, “blasphemy laws” and Sharia law, Clements said.
“He knew the material would deeply wound and anger Muslims,” said Clements.
The content was not humorous, ironic or satirical, he said.
“Mr. Brazau is far too intelligent to believe this to be so.”
The flyer also contained a somewhat blurred photograph of a Muslim family on a downtown Toronto street.
The man in the photo testified that Brazau called him a “terrorist” on the day Brazau took the photo.
In a second interaction a few weeks later on a sidewalk, the man, whose name is protected by a publication ban, said that Brazau approached him aggressively while photographing the family, making him “concerned and fearful.”
Clements found this to be criminal harassment.
During sentencing submissions, Crown prosecutor Derek Ishak described Brazau as an “unrepentant hatemonger … who abused his right to freedom of speech in a planned, deliberate manner,” Clements said Tuesday in his sentencing decision.
However, Clements said that while Brazau’s conduct was “despicable” and his beliefs “repugnant,” the maximum sentence of six months for a summary conviction on willfully promoting hatred was unwarranted.
He also noted the defence submission that Brazau committed his offences in public, where he was easily identifiable, rather than by stealth.
Instead, he gave Brazau a four-month sentence, plus two months for criminal harassment and mischief and three months for breach of probation by not keeping the peace.
Brazau, who had spent nine months in pre-trial custody, was sentenced to time served.
Clements declined to ban Brazau from distributing flyers, since that could impede his right to freedom of expression.
Outside the court, Brazau said he will appeal his sentence. He says he is aware the flyer was “problematic” and “would offend.”
But his voice won’t be silenced, Brazau added, though he will keep in mind the hate speech laws, which he says he has learned to navigate over the past few months.
“Hatred is the harvest he wanted to gather,” Clements said in his conviction decision, quoting William Butler Yeats. “I find this is true of Mr. Brazau.”
Last month, a small claims court found that Brazau had been wrongfully arrested and detained while protesting near Sgt. Ryan Russell’s funeral procession in 2011.
However, the deputy judge also found his conduct “reprehensible” and awarded him only $1,000 in damages.
Source: The Star