In the first Internet hate crime conviction in British Columbia since 2006, Arthur Topham, a Quesnel, B.C.-based publisher and editor of Radical Press, was found guilty Nov. 12 of using his website to promote hatred against Jewish people.
Topham had stated on his website that all Jews should be sterilized. The site also contained the texts The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, The Biological Jew and The Jewish Religion: Its Influence Today. In court, Topham’s lawyer claimed his website was meant to be a satire, and though the 12-person jury took 2-1/2 days to reach a guilty verdict, they didn’t accept that defence.
Harry Abrams, 63, a Victoria-based owner of an advertising company, was among the first to bring attention to Topham’s website and his anti-Semitic vitriol back in 2007. Abrams, who has 30 years of anti-defamation work behind him and currently leads the Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island’s social action committee, describes Topham as “rabidly anti-Semitic.”
“I started monitoring his site, which had some pretty nasty stuff on it, in 2007 and warned him that he could be in for hate charges under Canada’s human rights laws,” he recalls. Topham was non-compliant when Abrams suggested he remove the offensive material. So Abrams spent time studying and investigating the website and assembling a case that, with the help of Bnai Brith Canada, eventually went to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
That might have been the end of the story, except that the case stalled in 2011 when civil human rights legislation was discontinued. Meanwhile, Topham upped the intensity of the vitriol on his website, to the point Abrams was convinced it was criminal. “He had taken an obscure booklet, some World War II propaganda, and changed the wording, calling for the extermination of all Jews by sterilization,” Abrams said.
He approached the B.C. Hate Crimes Unit, which investigated the Topham case and worked intensively on it between 2011 and 2012, when Topham was arrested.
Det.-Const. Terry Wilson, now retired, led the investigation and said he was thoroughly convinced of its merit as soon as he received the first two complaints and examined the website.
“I interviewed Arthur after his arrest in 2012, and he was very passionate about his cause,” Wilson recalled. “Unfortunately his cause and the message he was putting out was criminal. But he absolutely believed, and still believes, that Jews are causing all the problems in the world.”
Wilson said Topham’s case is different from the 20 or so he’d worked on previously, because of his extreme anti-Jewish focus. “Usually we find people who are against Jews are also against gays, lesbians, blacks, whereas Mr. Topham seemed to be solely focused on the Jewish population and is very much in favour of aboriginal rights.”
Topham also claimed that his wife Shastah is Jewish, a fact Wilson disputes. “He could say she was Jewish by birth but there was no way she would be Jewish by religion and stick with a guy who said things like that.”
Martin Sampson, director of communications for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affair in Ottawa, said his team has been watching the Topham case closely. “I think what this case reveals is that there are limits to free speech and the court clearly shows they’ll uphold those limits. If you’re inciting hatred against individual groups you’ll face the force of the law.”
B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn agreed.
“Topham’s bizarre anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and his repeated demonization of the Jewish people are far beyond the limits of what civil society would consider to be protected speech,” Mostyn said in a statement.
“While we recognize that freedom of speech is the cornerstone of a free and democratic society, Topham’s postings crossed a line when he began to actively assert the need for genocide of the Jewish People, saying that there is only ‘one mode of ridding the world forces of Zionism, and that is to stem the source from which issue those war-lusted souls, by preventing the people of Israel from ever again reproducing their kind.’ [Source: Israel Must Perish! by Arthur Topham].”
Crown prosecutor Jennifer Johnston has not yet formulated her sentencing position, but promoting hatred carries a maximum two years less a day in prison.
Wilson said what he wants most is to see Topham’s website shut down. “I’d like to see the message he’s putting out, or his ability to put out that message, hampered in some way. That’s really the focus, to stop exposure to his message.”
Abrams said the guilty verdict would likely be appealed, but that Topham would be subject to bail conditions until sentencing, which will take place in January. The conditions hearing will be held Nov. 16, at which time Abrams said Johnston would likely ask that the website be taken down or suspended and that Topham refrain from putting out hatred against Jews.
“I feel good about the verdict, having worked on it so many years. It’s a spiritual thing for me,” Abrams added.