The Crown has requested that the bail conditions placed on a Montreal man accused of making online death threats against the Jewish community be strengthened.
Robert Gosselin made his third court appearance on Dec. 17, when he learned that the prosecution wants him prohibited from going near any Jewish school or synagogue while he awaits trial.
The judge, however, declined to make a decision on the request, due to the absence of Gosselin’s new lawyer.
He is scheduled to be back in court on Jan. 7.
David Ouellette of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is pleased that the Crown has heeded its concern that the conditions upon which Gosselin was released were too lenient.
Gosselin, 55, was charged on Oct. 26 with uttering threats and inciting hatred against an identifiable group via social media.
On Oct. 24, he posted a series of violent and offensive anti-Semitic comments on Le Journal de Montréal’s Facebook page.
Most disturbingly, he made a specific threat against Jewish children. Gosselin wrote in French that he would “eliminate Jews by killing a whole Jewish girls’ school. That’s not a threat, it’s a promise!”
He also wrote: “A good Jew serves as firewood”; and “There is no one more anti-Zionist than me! and I will surely kill!”
Gosselin is also charged with making threats of physical harm against the children of singer Céline Dion.
On Oct. 26, he was released on a $500 bond and ordered not to use social media and to keep the peace.
At the Dec. 17 pro forma hearing, it was noted by the court that he has complied with those conditions. The police force’s Hate Crimes and Incidents Unit has been keeping him under surveillance.
CIJA legal counsel, Jonathan Gordon, later explained that the fact that the judge deferred the decision was not unusual under such circumstances. Gosselin’s new lawyer was not only absent, but had not had time to review the Crown’s evidence against her client, or to discuss the matter with him.
However, two Orthodox women who attended the hearing found little consolation in the possibility that a restraining order will be imposed on Gosselin. Both asked that their names not be published, but identified themselves as grandmothers of children in Orthodox Jewish schools.
They said they believe Gosselin should have been detained from the time of his arrest, because of his alleged targeting of a specific group of people. They expressed disappointment with the repeated postponements in the case.
“There was a case like this in Florida and he was put in jail,” said one woman, who characterized the level of fear in her community as “very high.”
Gosselin looked dazed as he sat in the courtroom. Wearing a parka, loose-fitting jeans and red athletic shoes, the bearded, grey-haired man told the judge that his lawyer, Sara Daoust, was on vacation.
After some consultation with a legal aid lawyer, Gosselin went before the judge a second time that morning, when it was established that he had no objection to the proposal of a restraining order being added as a bail condition.
We know that online threats can result in real violence.
– David Ouellette
Gordon said restraining orders of the kind proposed typically cover a 200-metre radius around the protected institution.
Ouellette said CIJA is hopeful the additional condition will be imposed at the Jan. 7 hearing. “It would go a long way to reassure members of the community,” he said.
Gosselin’s last court appearance was on Nov. 20, when he announced that he wanted to change lawyers.
If convicted of the three counts against him, he faces a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison.
In a case adjudicated this month, a 62-year-old Quebec City woman avoided jail time after pleading guilty to numerous violent and hateful online comments against Muslims.
François Giroux was given a conditional discharge, thus avoiding a criminal record. She was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and put on one year’s probation.
Over a nine month period during 2016-17, using the pseudonym Frank Giroux, she posted some 20 comments about Muslims beneath articles on the Europe Israël website.
She called them “the garbage of humanity” and alluded to “eliminating,” “exterminating” and “wiping them off the face of the earth.” She suggested sending an F18 fighter jet loaded with mustard gas over them and, “Voilà, the problem is solved.”
Ouellette said the Giroux case is an indication that the judiciary is not taking the matter of online hate seriously enough.
“This was a slap on the wrist,” he said. “To us, it illustrates the need for online hate to be prosecuted more vigorously. We know that online threats can result in real violence.”