British Columbia

B.C. man convicted of promoting hate on web to challenge law in court

A B.C. grandfather convicted of wilfully promoting hatred against Jewish people on the internet is launching a charter challenge of Canada's hate crime laws.

Canada's Criminal Code provisions out of step with internet reality, Arthur Topham's supporters say

Arthur Topham arrives at the Quesnel courthouse on the first day of his hate crime trial in 2015. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC)

A B.C. grandfather convicted of wilfully promoting hatred against Jewish people on the internet is launching a charter challenge of Canada's hate crime laws.

Arthur Topham is scheduled to appear today in B.C. Supreme Court at the small Quesnel courthouse for a week-long challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, funded in part by self-proclaimed "white nationalists."

Topham was convicted in November of one Criminal Code count of communicating statements that wilfully promoted hatred against Jewish people through his website, 

Self-proclaimed "white nationalist" Paul Fromm at the Quesnel courthouse in 2015, during Arthur Topham's trial. Fromm contributed to Topham's defence fund. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC)

The defence is expected to challenge that conviction based on the charter right to free expression and the contention that Canada's hate crime law didn't anticipate the nature of the internet.

Although a Quesnel jury convicted Topham, the judge delayed a decision about shutting down his website until ​sentencing. If the charter challenge fails, Topham may be sentenced as early as later this week.

"This is not a matter of Arthur Topham passing out pamphlets," said Paul Fromm, an avowed "white nationalist" who helped fund Topham's defence.

"You have to want to read what he has on his website. You have to seek it out and sift through and read it."

Fromm, director of the Canadian Association for Free Expression, is a controversial anti-immigration and free speech activist who has been linked to neo-Nazi groups in the past. He sat through Topham's two-week trial last winter and said he would travel from Ontario to be in court today for the charter challenge. 

Wants website shut down

Harry Abrams will also be watching closely from Victoria.

The  businessman and B'nai Brith volunteer launched the complaint that led to the charges against Topham, and he's been trying for years to have the website shut down.

Abrams dismisses the argument that people must intentionally search for Topham's web posts to find them. 

"If you put in the word 'breast' or 'mom' or the word 'Jew' [on an internet search engine], you'll get all kinds of things that come up in a search," said Abrams.

"Sometimes it's hard-core pornography, sometimes it's what you're looking for, sometimes it will turn up the stuff Topham [writes], that Jews have no right to exist."

"To call for the sterilization of all Jews, that's incitement to genocide," said Abrams."It wasn't that long ago that people tried to kill us all, so it's not something we take lightly. It's not a joke to us."

Free speech

Topham's website has posted numerous anti-Jewish articles, including a "satire" urging the forced sterilization of Jews and posts accusing "world Jewry" of starting the Second World War. Topham's posts have linked Jews with the devil and world domination and used phrases like "synagogues of Satan."

During Topham's trial, his lawyer conceded the 68-year-old grandfather's views "deviate from the mainstream" but defended Topham's website as free speech.

​"Under freedom of expression, some people will say some terrible things, some disgusting things," Fromm, the "white nationalist," told CBC. "But the law should stop treating Canadians as pathetic little children. Let Canadians make up their own minds.

"They don't grab you by the neck, turn on your computer and force you to watch it."

In final arguments at the earlier trial, defence lawyer Barclay Johnson called the hate crime prosecution of his client "an inquisition" by "lobby groups for a foreign government trying to shut down a Canadian website for criticism of Israel and Jews."

Quesnel is an inland community of about 10,000 people 640 kilometres north of Vancouver.


Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary and the Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award. Based in Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry and the Paralympics.