A complaint has been filed with police against far-right media corporation Rebel News Network Ltd. for allegedly distributing Islamophobic hate propaganda on its website and YouTube channel.
Richard Warman, a human rights lawyer who specializes in online hate speech, filed a 53-page complaint with the Ottawa Police Service’s Criminal Investigations Unit last week.
The complaint targets the company’s three directors during 2015 to 2018: Hamish Marshall, the Conservative Party of Canada’s election campaign chair, Rebel co-founder Ezra Levant, and managing editor Hannah Vanderkooy.
Ottawa police said that they can’t “confirm or deny a police investigation about a named person or organization unless a charge is laid.”
Citing more than 40 videos produced and uploaded by Rebel between 2015 and 2018, Warman also targets Faith Bazos, otherwise known as Faith Goldy, one of Canada’s most recognizable far-right figures. She’s featured as the presenter for eight of the videos Warman cites.
Goldy, who split with the company in 2017 after appearing on a white supremacist podcast, was one of the Rebel’s most popular personalities.
Both the Rebel and the Conservative Party called the complaint a “stunt.”
“I fired Faith Goldy more than two years ago. [Former English Defence League leader] Tommy Robinson hasn’t worked for us in a year and a half. Hamish Marshall hasn’t been a director of our company in two years,” Levant, who still runs the Rebel, said. “I suspect the timing here is based on the federal election campaign. I think that’s another collateral purpose here. This is an election stunt.”
Levant said he disagrees with Warman’s allegations. “In Canada, it is permissible to criticize any ideology, philosophy or religion, whether it’s Christianity, Scientology, capitalism, or Islam,” he said.
Levant added that Warman had a “long vendetta” against him, and that he was talking to his lawyer about whether Warman’s latest complaint amounts to defamation and was “actionable.”
Warman sued Levant in 2008 for defamation. They settled out of court.
“The inclusion of Mr. Marshall is nothing more than a political stunt with the help of a foreign entity on the eve of our election,” Cory Hann, the Conservative Party’s director of communication, said.
“As Mr. Marshall has made clear, and has been widely reported, his involvement with [Rebel] was purely technological and web-based in nature, he had no influence on the editorial direction, and his limited involvement ended more than two years ago,” Hann said.
Warman alleges that Marshall, his Rebel co-directors, and Bazos breached the Canadian Criminal Code by “wilfully promoting hatred of the Muslim community.”
Warman started working on the complaint in February after seeing a video by the U.K. anti-hate group, Hope Not Hate, showing Robinson in a Rebel broadcast. (Robinson, whose legal name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was not named in the complaint because his videos were produced in the U.K.)
In one video mentioned in the complaint, Robinson labels Muslims as “enemy combatants” that must be fought in defence of civilized society. Other examples quote Robinson saying that Muslims are “following Mohammed’s example” and that the Muslim prophet was a “violent pedophile.”
In another video cited in the complaint, Goldy portrays Islam as being especially and inherently violent, as opposed to Christianity, and says that “mass migration should be a warning to the West.”
Along with Levant and Vanderkooy, Marshall was listed as a corporate director of the Rebel when many of the cited videos were made and distributed. Marshall, an experienced strategist who worked for both former prime minister Stephen Harper and conservative politician Brian Jean, also helped Andrew Scheer become leader of the Conservatives in 2017.
While helping with Scheer’s 2017 leadership campaign, Marshall worked out of the Rebel’s offices.
That August, Rebel and Goldy parted ways after Goldy appeared on a neo-Nazi podcast while covering the infamous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Marshall and Scheer also distanced themselves from Rebel shortly after, with Scheer explaining to the media that he would no longer grant the far-right platform any more interviews. Marshall was named the chair of the Conservative Party of Canada’s 2019 election campaign that fall.
“When people promote things that do violate the law, they should be appropriately prosecuted, and that obviously includes hate speech against minorities,” Mustafa Farooq, the executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), an advocacy group copied on Warman’s complaint, said. “In this particular case we’re still reviewing Mr. Warman’s report and will have a better idea of how much we agree with him after that’s done.”
Ottawa police will have to decide whether or not to carry out an investigation based on Warman’s complaint. It’s rare for police to lay charges for public incitement or wilful promotion of hatred; according to Statistics Canada, there were 121 police-reported incidents in 2017. Prosecutions are even more uncommon. To secure convictions, prosecutors must prove that the accused specifically intended to incite hatred.
Follow Steven Zhou on Twitter.