It seems that while former Mississauga mayoral candidate and frequent ‘opinionator’ Kevin ‘Jackal’ Johnston has attracted his fair share of critics, he does seem to have some support out there, at the very least, for his right to free speech in this country.

The Ontario Civil LIberties Association (OCLA) has launched an online petition requesting that the Attorney General, Yasir Naqvi, rescind the charges invoked under Section 319 of the Criminal Code against Johnston for a number of provocative, and rather disturbing, incidences and statements against the Muslim community in Mississauga and elsewhere in Ontario.

“No one in Canada should be jailed or criminally prosecuted for thoughts, inferred attitudes or speech, in the absence of proven intention to have demonstrably caused actual harm to an identified person. Victimless crimes are antithetical to democracy. Supposed capability of inducing an emotional response (“hate”) in persons at large must never be the crux of a criminal prosecution,” the petition states.

Section 319 (“Wilful Promotion of Hatred”) defines offences resulting in prison sentences of up to five years for speech that need not be proven to have caused physical or psychological harm to any person. The sections define crimes of expression in which the Crown is not required to prove that there was a victim, or that any person suffered actual harm. The said sections are applied at the discretion of the Government, since no proceeding can be instituted without the consent of the Attorney General. Thus, the use of such a proceeding as a political instrument is an inescapable feature of the law.

Let’s do a deeper examination into several issues I believe arises from this arrest, starting with….

Has Johnston’s right to free speech been violated?

The OCLA argument is that free speech is blind and doesn’t cherry pick who is appropriate or not. This is not to say this law shouldn’t be applied when it is necessary to do so, such as in the case R v. Andrews (1990) about a white supremacist group distributing literature making claims against blacks and Jews. But did Attorney General Naqvi allow political considerations to weigh in on his decision in authorizing this approval by Peel Police to charge Johnston with hate crimes?

Naqvi is a member of the Ontario Liberal Party, and Johnston has frequently targeted the Liberal Party over the perception that the party has capitulated towards radical Islamic views diametrically opposite to the norms of Western society. Johnston frequently attempt to ambush subjects to be interviewed for his YouTube channel, such as Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie or Justin Trudeau when he comes to Mississauga. He does it with little success and ends up having just having a frequent rant about radical Islam.

That being said, I think what has prompted the OCLA to respond on this case is the vagueness with which Johnston is being charged with. The Peel Regional Police did not outline a specific incident that led to the charge, but referred to a dossier they had of things the man has done over the course of the past few years. Some of the things Johnston has been accused of include, but not limited, to the following:

  • Johnston offered monetary rewards ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 to anyone who was able to film a Muslim student in a Mississauga school “spewing hate speech during Friday prayers”.
  • In another instance, Johnston said Liberal MP Iqra Khalid could get shot for introducing a motion condemning Islamophobia in the House of Commons, and said he’d be there to witness it with a “with a big, fat smile on my face.”
  • Running an online website in which one of the posts viciously attacked Mayor Bonnie Crombie, saying she was turning Mississauga “into a dangerous Islamic war zone” so Muslims could “kill her son just for being gay.”

Johnston has also posted online content about a variety of subjects. Some time ago I noticed one on his YouTube channel, before YouTube discontinued it, a 15 minute long clip of him going on about M-103 (the anti-Islamophobia bill) and speaking about Khalid. He kept mocking her appearance, calling her “this little girl” in a weirdly obsessive focus on her gender and age…and this was only into the first 2 minutes. I stopped watching after that because it was obvious this was not going to be any kind of valid argument he was making.

Kevin ‘Jackal’ Johnston isn’t the only individual with controversial opinions in Canada; there are many others scattered in various communities across this country with their own controversial opinions. There is no shame in saying you fundamentally disagree or oppose what he is saying, but I am reminded of what the French philosopher Voltaire once said, “I don’t agree with what you say, but I defend your right to say it.” A free society doesn’t really function if all voices, especially those that make you uncomfortable, are not present.

The question however in this case is has Johnston crossed a line breaching beyond civilized debate and into hate speech? Just examining the example of the reward offer and what he said about Mayor Crombie’s son; while they may not be directly calling on violence towards a certain group, the tone and language can certainly incite hatred towards Muslims. As for his stated reaction if Khalid was physically harmed, that says more about him as a person than an actual threat against the woman.

The Peel Regional Police need to be clear with Johnston’s charges

If this matter was something more black and white like a murder investigation, the police would have every right to keep the flow of information to a level that is acceptable for the public to know while they continue their investigation. In the case of Johnston, he has been in the public eye in Mississauga since at least 2014 when he was running to be Mississauga’s next mayor, and as mentioned before his views have been quite well known.

To charge someone with hate crimes is quite serious, no matter who you are, and the damage to your reputation could last for years and harm you financially and emotionally, costing one future employment as well as making one a pariah in the community. I’m not saying he didn’t perhaps have this coming, but to not reveal the extent of the charges and have the Ontario Attorney General sign off without the public knowing exactly why this section of the Criminal Code had to be used, it gives the impression something secretive was done and some would wonder if their freedom of speech would result in the power of the state being brought down upon them.

But let’s not lose sight of the final point about this whole situation….

Johnston is looking for more publicity…should he get it or not?

I think it has been well established that Kevin Jackal Johnston is, if nothing else, very good at getting attention on himself. Back in 2015, he waded himself into the debate at Mississauga City Council over the renovations to the mosque in Meadowvale, publishing a very inflammatory newsletter suggestion that the mosque would lead to an increase in sexual assaults, vandalism, kidnappings and loss of freedom of speech. Even some of the residents who were concerned mostly over increased traffic and noise, not to mention the local councillor, at the time were distancing themselves from Johnston’s statements.

So if this is going to move onto a trial, I would imagine this is exactly what Johnston wanted. A big public court appearance where he can air out his point of view and get even more attention. There are some other columnists who say they should not give Johnston the time of day nor satisfy his desire for the spotlight because it would only highlight or legitimize the racial tensions he has been fanning the flames over.

I am inclined to disagree with this assessment, even though I am aware that by even writing this I am giving him publicity that he doesn’t deserve. But perhaps it’s time he gets a full airing of his views in open court so the residents of Mississauga and across the GTA can see that such views do exist in their community, so that we can all have a proper assessment of how multiculturalism has worked out in 2017. If someone like this feels comfortable enough to hold these views in public, perhaps there is something in our discussions over diversity and inclusion that is missing.

As distasteful as the comments he has made, this is a country that should respect freedom of speech, and if we are to apply laws to charge someone with hate crimes, we better get a good reason why the government feels that is justified for any group or single individual.