Allowing a Montreal man who allegedly made online death threats against Jews to remain free for another three weeks is adding to uneasiness in the community, especially among parents, said Rabbi Reuben Poupko.
The second court appearance of Robert Gosselin, 55, was postponed until Nov. 29, because he is changing lawyers (it was originally scheduled for Nov. 6).
Gosselin was charged on Oct. 26 with three counts of inciting hatred and uttering threats of death or bodily harm against an identifiable group, for comments posted on the Facebook page of the daily newspaper Le Journal de Montréal on Oct. 24, as well as for threats made against the family of singer Céline Dion.
He was arrested the following day, after readers notified police about the comments, which allegedly included his intention to “eliminate Jews by killing a whole Jewish girls’ school. That’s not a threat, it’s a promise!” This was among a number of hostile and offensive remarks about Jews and Zionism.
Following his initial appearance before a judge, he was released on $500 bail, with the conditions that he not use social media and that he keep the peace.
“Since his release, the Hate Crimes and Incidents Unit has been making verifications to ensure he complies with those conditions,” the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal stated in an Oct. 31 press release.
Addressed to “our partners in the Jewish community,” the release continues: “Rest assured that our patrol officers are vigilant and available. Surveillance has been increased around Montreal synagogues and schools.”
CIJA has applauded the police for their swift action and the seriousness with which they have handled this matter. It is less pleased with the court.
Rabbi Poupko, Quebec co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said he was disappointed with Gosselin’s release. Even if it is in conformity with legal precedent, he nevertheless finds the bail set to be “shockingly” low and the conditions too lenient.
Gosselin has no criminal record and Rabbi Poupko said the accused has not been on CIJA’s radar in the past.
Gosselin’s Nov. 29 court date is expected to be a pro forma hearing. If convicted of the charges, he faces a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison.
“The seriousness of the impact of the crime should be taken into account. This specific threat against a school has really increased the nervousness among Jewish parents,” Rabbi Poupko said.
Unfortunately, as we have seen with the tragic and barbaric attack on Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh, the need for a proactive strategy to tackle anti-Semitism is as necessary and as urgent as ever.
– Michael Mostyn
He reiterated that no increased level of threat against the Jewish community has been detected, but CIJA is working closely with the police and other authorities to ensure security.
From a broader perspective, this matter underlines that social media is a vehicle for the dissemination of hate and violent intent, he said, and Canada should find a way to curtail it.
“All democracies are facing the dilemma of how to uphold freedom of speech and confront hate on social media. Canada does have hate speech legislation. We are not saying these platforms should be shut down, but the hosts need to be more diligent in filtering. I think the Journal took a little too long in taking down (Gosselin’s posts),” he said. They were up for about 24 hours, even though numerous people are understood to have flagged them.
In a CIJA press release, Rabbi Poupko stated: “In Pittsburgh, we saw all too well that threats of violence and anti-Semitism made online can turn into murderous violence offline.… The Internet is today’s most concerning incubator of anti-Semitism, radicalization and hate. In the wake of this incident, CIJA is redoubling its efforts to advocate for a federal government-led comprehensive national plan to combat online hate and compel social media providers to enforce their existing codes of conduct more rigorously.”
B’nai Brith Canada is also following the Gosselin case closely and is in regular contact with police, which has told the organization that he was charged to the full extent of the law.
“Unfortunately, as we have seen with the tragic and barbaric attack on Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh, the need for a proactive strategy to tackle anti-Semitism is as necessary and as urgent as ever,” stated chief executive officer Michael Mostyn.
B’nai Brith is calling for the creation of trained hate crime units in the police forces of every major Canadian city. “A dedicated set of police officers with the necessary resources and expertise can lead to greater deterrence and prosecution rates, and keep Canadian from all walks of life safer,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Jewish community in Outremont was disturbed to discover sinister-looking graffiti on the exterior wall of the Belz Community High School on Nov. 5.
This specific threat against a school has really increased the nervousness among Jewish parents.
– Rabbi Reuben Poupko
Bearing the words, “One scythe fits all,” the graffito appears to be a caricature of a skeletal Grim Reaper.
It’s signed by Lost Claws, which is the pseudonym of a Montreal street artist who specializes in dark subjects.
Although police did open an investigation, David Ouellette, CIJA’s director of research and public affairs, said there is no evidence of anti-Semitic intent and its appearance alongside the Gosselin case was purely coincidental.
“There’s no reason to see any threat in it,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances that should not be a cause for alarm.”