MONTREAL — A Quebec man convicted of promoting hatred against Jews has been sentenced to 15 months in jail and three years of probation, in what Jewish groups are calling a major victory in the battle against antisemitism and online hate.
Gabriel Sohier Chaput represents a continued risk to society because he hasn't grasped the seriousness of his "highly reprehensible actions" or the harm they caused, Quebec court Judge Manlio Del Negro told a Montreal courtroom Friday.
"Unfortunately, the years that have passed since the infraction was committed don’t appear to have shaken his radicalized convictions," Del Negro said.
"The delinquent expresses neither regret nor empathetic thoughts regarding his victims for his criminal act."
Sohier Chaput was found guilty in January, after the judge ruled that a 2017 article published on the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer actively promoted hatred of Jewish people. The accused wrote more than 800 articles for the online publication named after the Nazi-era propaganda newspaper Der Sturmer.
Both the prosecution and the defence had recommended a three-month sentence followed by probation. But Del Negro flatly rejected that proposal, which he described as "unhinged," and instead imposed a sentence much closer to the two-year maximum.
A light sentence, he argued, would be contrary to the public interest and would likely give an "informed and reasonable" person reason to question the justice system.
Sohier Chaput had acted like a "hate influencer" by sharing his views with a large online audience, the judge said.
"The court must send a clear message that hateful messages have no place in the world," he said.
Eta Yudin, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the decision was "huge for all Quebecers," and "proof that the justice system works."
"Today the court sent a very strong message that there are very real consequences to promoting and spreading hatred," she said, adding that the sentence is especially important at a time when antisemitic incidents, and incidents of online hate, are rising all over the world.
The result sends a message that "sitting anonymously behind a keyboard and spreading hate is not a free pass to do what you want," she said.
Representatives of several Jewish organizations were in the courtroom on Friday, and could be seen exchanging occasional smiles as the judge repeatedly denounced Sohier Chaput's actions and criticized the lawyers on both sides for jointly proposing a three-month sentence.
Sohier Chaput, meanwhile, stood unresponsive in front of the judge, his hands clasped in front of him, as the sentence was delivered. After the hearing, the 36-year-old was handcuffed and led from the courtroom.
Antonio Cabral, Sohier Chaput's lawyer, said he was "very surprised" by the length of the sentence. The judge, he said, didn't fully take into consideration all the efforts his client had made to change his life since the article was published.
"We have someone who hasn't committed infractions for the last six years, we have someone who doesn't have a criminal record … if that's the judge's opinion, I respect it. But I have a different perspective," he said outside the courtroom.
The defence is appealing the conviction, and Cabral said he would file an appeal to the sentence early next week.
During the trial, Sohier Chaput admitted to writing part of the article that led to the charges — including a section that called for "non-stop Nazism everywhere until the streets are flooded with the tears of our enemies"-- but has argued that the article was intended to be taken ironically and that it used humour and exaggeration.
At a sentencing hearing in July, he apologized to those he had hurt, saying he was "now someone different."
But Del Negro said Friday that Sohier Chaput's apology seemed "opportunistic" rather than sincere and that the accused's interest in seeking therapy, and recent community service, seemed aimed at earning favour with the court rather than reflecting real desire for change.
The judge cited a pre-sentencing report that suggested Sohier Chaput presented a "moderate" risk of recidivism due to his failure to renounce his ideology.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2023.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press