Professor hopeful hate-crime charge will deter others, despite death of accused

A rare hate-crimes court case in Edmonton is over but the complainants may not have the kind of closure they were hoping for.

'Of course, it’s tragic when anyone passes away and very said, I think, in this case,' LGBTQ advocate says

Professor and LBGTQ advocate, Kris Wells, filed a complaint with Edmonton police after seeing blog posts he says targeted him with hateful and hurtful language. (CBC)

A rare hate-crimes court case in Edmonton is over but the complainants may not have the kind of closure they were hoping for.

The man charged with wilful promotion of hatred for offensive language he used on his blog, The Baconfat Papers, died of a stroke July 4, one of the complainants confirmed Wednesday. 

The Edmonton police hate crimes unit charged Barry Winters this spring after receiving complaints about his blog from LGBTQ advocates, including Kris Wells, the faculty director of the University of Alberta's Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services.

"Of course, it's tragic when anyone passes away and very sad, I think, in this case," Wells told CBC News.

"I don't think there's any resolution," Wells said. "This person hasn't been held accountable; only in the sense of karma, perhaps, if you believe in that — the universe taking care of things on its own terms."

Even though there will be no court hearing or decision, Wells is hopeful the nature of the charge will act as a deterrent to others using racist, homophobic or sexist language.

"When you cross that line from free speech to hate speech, there will be consequences. That's probably the most important message out of these charges."

Wells said he was shocked at the "hateful and horrific nature of the comments," when he read Winters's blog over two years ago. Wells was one of several people targeted with violent threats.

"I'm used to lots of issues being directed my way because of the work that I do and in the LGBTQ community, but this really was beyond any bounds of acceptability."

Wells acknowledged that the threshold is high for police to lay hate-crime charges, but he's hoping more people will report to police if they suspect someone's behaviour falls under that part of the Criminal Code.

Wells said only one in 10 hate crimes is reported in Canada.

Statistics Canada data show the rate of hate crimes in Alberta rose 39 per cent in 2015, compared to a five-per-cent rise nationally.

The Alberta Justice and Solicitor General office said the charge against Winters will be stayed before Aug. 4, which was to be Winters's next court appearance.