'Nobody was safe from it': Edmonton blogger charged with rare hate crime targeted individuals across Canada

The sheer scale of the hatred spewed by an Edmonton blogger is more extreme than anything an investigator on the case says he’s seen before.

Police say Barry Winters, 62, made derogatory remarks about race, gender, politics

Edmonton police Sgt. Gary Willits of the hate crimes unit said the investigation into blog posts targeting numerous individuals took more than a year. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Blogs that led to a rare charge of promoting hatred were more extreme than anything he's ever seen before, says an Edmonton police investigator.

"I've never seen such extreme hatred from an individual," said Edmonton police Sgt. Gary Willits. "He just kept spewing and nobody was safe from it.

"He literally in some of these blogs was saying to kill people."

After an investigation of more than a year, Edmonton police confirmed Wednesday a CBC News report a day earlier that revealed Barry Winters, 62, was charged with wilful promotion of hatred on a blog called The Baconfat Papers and other blogs between 2014 and 2016. But police say there's reason to believe the posts date back at least two years earlier.

Copies of the blog submitted for evidence by one of many complainants in the case show the blogger repeatedly made derogatory comments about numerous individuals across the country, including a number of well-known politicians and LGBTQ advocates in Edmonton.

The remarks don't exclusively target one particular group, but focus on various factors, including race, gender, sexual orientation and culture. Others attack individual politicians in various levels of government.

Willits said it's possible some people still don't know they were targeted in the blog posts.

Complainants hurt, scared

Glenn Canning, based in Toronto, said there were dozens of posts on Winters' blog between 2014 and 2016 about his daughter, Rehtaeh Parsons. She committed suicide after she was sexually abused by a group of teenage boys at a party in Halifax in 2013.

Canning said he discovered his daughter and his family were the subject of the blog posts after someone contacted him and told him about them.

It just broke my bloody heart in half to read that.- Rehtaeh Parsons's father Glen Canning

The blogs that focused on Rehtaeh were "just disgusting and sick," Canning said.

"It just broke my bloody heart in half to read that. It was cruel and it is even crueller to know that the guy did it for no other reason than he enjoyed hurting somebody."

Canning said he was in touch with police over the past year after they opened the investigation. He's glad police have finally laid a charge.

"I've cried over this," Canning said. "When it happens to you over a very personal thing, it affects you pretty badly."

Marni Panas speaks to reporters about how she felt when she discovered blog posts targeting her. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Marni Panas, an Edmonton-based LGBTQ advocate, said she was appalled when she stumbled across posts on a blog suggesting she move to a country where transgender women, like herself, are persecuted.

You don't know who's on the other end of these keyboards.- Marni Panas

"You don't know who's on the other end of these keyboards.You don't know what they're capable of and that instills a real fear," said Panas, who notified police in 2016.

Panas said she has experienced online hateful comments before, but said it stood out that the blogger in this instance was from the same city.

She said she'd never met the the blogger, to her knowledge, but wondered what would happen if she did.

Exhausting investigation

Willits said police began the investigation in early 2016, after they received complaints about the blog posts. Collecting the evidence was time-consuming and complicated, he said, because patterns of hatred, threats and harm had to be documented meticulously.

Willits said stating an opinion, a personal dislike, of something or someone, is not the same as "intruding on others" and "uttering threats."

The charge Winters faces is rare. Alberta Justice said in an email that province-wide, that type of charge has only been laid on three other occasions since 2011.

Edmonton police had to seek approval from the attorney general to charge the blogger, who police say had a growing following numbering into the thousands. 

The posts were filled with derogatory words and "dehumanized scorn" toward people and identifiable groups, Willits said.