A Calgary man who the police accuse for using an anti-Semitic phrase during a demonstration in the city center last weekend faces a charge of causing a riot, which is also charged with hate motivation.
Wesam Cooley, 32, who is also called Wesam Khaled, was arrested after Sunday’s demonstration. The hate motivation aspect of the charge, if proven, would be applied as an aggravating factor in sentencing if he is convicted.
But a co-organizer of the protest, who says she participated in a pre-demonstration conversation with police, said a CPS member assured Cooley before her speech that the words she was about to use while addressing her followers would not result in charges. that day.
According to a police statement, two groups of protesters gathered at Calgary City Hall on Sunday to demonstrate about the conflict in the Middle East. A group was there to show their support for the Palestinian people. The other for Israel.
In the statement, police say members of their Diversity Response Team and Public Safety Unit met with members of both groups before the protests “to ensure the safety of participants, the public and our law enforcement officers.” police and to discuss some of the language and signals observed. in past protests.”
They say after that conversation, Cooley came on stage and acknowledged the conversation with police.
“She then proceeded to repeatedly use an anti-Semitic phrase while encouraging the crowd to follow her,” according to the police statement.
The police will not identify the phrase.
Police will not say what phrase Cooley allegedly used, but according to a public statement from the group that organized the protest, Justice for Palestinians, Cooley was accused of uttering the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” ”
It is “a protest song that has been a Palestinian call for liberation for decades,” according to the Calgary group’s statement.
However, Jewish groups have described the phrase as anti-Semitic and say that he defends expel the Jews from Israel.
The Jewish Federation of Calgary did not respond to a request for comment, but thanked police for taking quick action after the weekend protest against a person “who was publicly inciting hate,” in a statement posted on the Calgary Jewish Federation’s website. The organization’s Facebook on November 7.
“Hopefully this arrest sets a precedent not only in Calgary but in other cities,” he added.
Breaking: viewed a video of the event posted on Facebook and Cooley can be seen leading the crowd in chanting after telling them he was just told the Alberta government is considering considering the chant hate speech.
“They are looking into whether people should be able to be arrested for hate speech crimes just for chanting that slogan,” he told the crowd.
He goes on to say that “the police assured him that there will be no arrests for this today.”
Breaking: contacted Cooley to find out more about what he was told before Sunday’s protest, but he said he could not comment due to the legal advice he was receiving.
Saba Amro, an organizer with Justice for Palestinians, said she was also at the pre-protest meeting with Cooley, as well as another organizer from her group, a CPS community liaison officer and another CPS officer.
Amro says police told his group before the protest began that the Crown prosecutor was considering the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” as possible hate speech.
“We asked directly if anyone would be charged on that particular day, Sunday, November 5, for saying and singing the phrase… and the answer we got was no,” Amro told Breaking: in an interview.
Richard Moon, a professor at the University of Windsor law school, researches free speech and says the charge of hate-motivated rioting is “shocking.”
“It seems like a way to try to bring charges in a case like this, where it seems unlikely that the requirements of the hate speech law could be met,” he said in an interview.
“Because the speech is not, clearly or obviously, extreme enough to be considered hate speech under the Criminal Code, it appears that the police may have used this indirect way to bring charges against this individual.”
When asked if the phrase in question meets the definition of hate speech, Moon said: “Certainly not. Its meaning is too open.”
The phrase does not meet the threshold
Doug King, a criminal law professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, says one sentence in and of itself doesn’t meet the threshold for a conviction for rioting. He says it must also be shown that what was said caused a risk to public safety or property.
“In my opinion, it’s going to come down to what the officer saw at the event itself. Just hearing it doesn’t give you all the information you need to say whether it’s a reasonable charge or it’s not a reasonable charge.”
King added that a statement that is innocuous on paper could rise to the level of causing disruption, “depending on how it is delivered and the effect it has on the people who hear it.” King agrees with Moon that what she saw watching videos of the protest does not rise to the level of hate speech.
“I think hate is a difficult thing to demonstrate when you’re talking about passion versus hate.”
CBC asked Calgary police to comment on the content of their conversation with protest organizers and whether they were given any assurances that they would not be arrested for repeating the aforementioned phrase. CBC also asked if CPS had any information on whether the provincial government is working to consider the phrase hate speech and, if so, whether CPS is involved in those conversations.
A CPS spokesperson responded with an emailed statement.
“The circumstances and full context of the behavior of the individual involved were considered in bringing the charge of causing a disturbance and in applying hate motivation to that charge. The behavior that led to the charges was considered in the context of the specific situation, all that is broader than a single isolated phrase, gesture, sign or symbol,” the statement says.
“While we appreciate the desire for specific details, this matter is now before the courts and no further specific information will be released.”
On Thursday, Breaking: asked Justice Minister Mickey Amery if the provincial government is considering changes to laws governing hate speech.
“I’m not aware of any at this time,” Amery told reporters.
According to Mount Royal’s King, that is not something that falls within provincial jurisdiction.
“What constitutes hate speech is a matter for the federal government and the Criminal Code, and the province has nothing to say about it,” he said.
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek called for stricter laws against hate speech in a statement on social media last Saturday.
“Unfortunately, our current legislation does not recognize or address the inherently violent nature of the offensive language and symbolism we hear and see on our city streets,” the mayor’s statement reads.
“Statutes and police officers are put in the impossible position of having to control crowds of people without having the ability to remove those who use harmful language because the threshold of hate crime legislation cannot be met.”
In light of that statement and the subsequent arrest, Gondek was asked if she had any knowledge that the provincial government was working to expand the definition of hate speech, and if she was involved in any discussions about it, or if she had any knowledge of conversations. engaging CPS on proposed changes to hate speech laws.
In a statement emailed to Breaking:, the mayor’s office said: “The mayor and council do not direct the work of the Calgary Police Service and do not make determinations about what constitutes hate speech. As the Mayor, Calgarians have the right to assemble peacefully and denounce hate directed against communities.”
Upon his arrest following Sunday’s protest, Cooley was released on a promise to appear in court on a certain date and comply with certain conditions. Amro says Cooley has been banned from attending any more protests. He is scheduled to appear in court again on December 12.
The maximum penalty for a riot conviction is two years less per day and/or a $5,000 fine.