Toronto

Oshawa store owner says he didn't know Nazi, Confederate flag items were for sale on his website

An Oshawa military surplus store owner pulled more than 60 Nazi and Confederate flag items off his online shop, saying he didn't know they were on his website due to a third-party listing them.

Army surplus store Hero Outdoors removed products, says third-party listed them

The owner of Hero Outdoors, a military surplus store in Oshawa, says he didn’t know Nazi and Confederate flag items were for sale on his website. Jeff Schwartz says a third-party listed the products on his site without his knowledge. (Hero Outdoors)

An Oshawa military surplus store has pulled Nazi and Confederate flag items off its online shop after being contacted by CBC Toronto this week about concerns they were being sold.

There were more than 10 items for sale with a swastika or other Nazi-related symbols, including flags, wall and desk ornaments, belts, a badge and a medal. None of the items are authentic, but newly-made replicas.

The site also included more than 50 products with the Confederate flag, including several knives, a toy truck, ornaments and a decal for gun magazines.

CBC Toronto spoke by phone with Jeff Schwartz, the owner of Hero Outdoors, after being alerted about the items by a concerned viewer. Schwartz said he wasn't aware the items were for sale on his website and that they were immediately taken down

CBC News found more than 60 items for sale featuring swastikas and the Confederate flag on items including knives, ornaments and badges. (Hero Outdoors)

He said a third-party data entry firm lists items on his store's website from other online suppliers. He says none of the products were sold, and even if someone had tried to buy them, the order wouldn't have been filled.

'It still hurts'

The sale of such products is "outrageous" and "alarming," said Noah Shack, the GTA vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

"These are replica items designed specifically to enable white supremacists and neo-Nazis to live out their twisted fantasies," he said.

Shack said what's even more disturbing is they were being sold at a store that also sells weapons.

"This is really a scary thing. We're not just indulging Nazi or symbolism and letting these people play dress up," he said. "This store is arming them at the same time."

Noah Shack, GTA vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, says it's disturbing the items were for sale alongside weapons. (Supplied/Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs)

Shailene Panylo, the director of the Durham Black Students' Network, said given the recent police killings of Black people, the subsequent protests and the conversations about systemic racism — she felt even more exhausted when she heard a website for a store in her community was selling items featuring the Confederate flag. 

Sometimes referred to as the Southern Cross or rebel flag, it was flown during the U.S. Civil War by secessionist states that fought to preserve slavery. It is now associated with white supremacist groups.

"Nothing really shocks you anymore," Panylo said. "But it's still disappointing. It still hurts, it's still discouraging."

It's unclear how long the items had been listed online. A handful of products with swastikas remain on the website.

Shailene Panylo, who helped organize and host the Black Lives Matter protest in Oshawa, would like to see a ban on the sale of items depicting swastikas and the Confederate flag. (Supplied/Shailene Panylo)

Hero Outdoors describes itself as an army surplus store that's been family-owned and operated since 1991. It sells a variety of military and tactical gear, including airsoft guns, knives and smoke grenades, as well as camping supplies, fishing gear and clothing.

In addition to its online store, Hero Outdoors has a storefront in Oshawa. Schwartz says Nazi and Confederate flag items are not sold there, which was confirmed by CBC News during a visit to the store this week.

Schwartz refused to do a longer interview with CBC Toronto, but says the store doesn't promote the items.

Store responsible for content, social media manager says

Baaba Hughes, the founder of social media management company Supremely Social, and a member of Black Professionals in Tech Network, says using third parties or an algorithm to sell products online is relatively new.

Many of her clients run e-commerce websites and Hughes says business owners often avoid it because it opens them to a lot of risk.

Baaba Hughes, founder of Supremely Social, says companies are responsible for what's displayed on their websites. (Supplied/Supremely Social)

"The owner takes onus because it's your store, it's your name and it's your brand," she said.

Hughes says third-party companies typically scour websites for products that are selling well, which automatically end up on the reseller store's website.

She says other businesses can learn from this case if they're using a third party. She suggests employing a system that checks what goes online, because she says nobody else is going to take the blame for it.

Selling products symbolizing hate is legal

University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon says while the sale of Nazi or Confederate flag products is concerning, it isn't illegal.

He says it doesn't fall under the Criminal Code's definition of a hate crime, which the public incitement of hatred or wilful promotion of hatred —  communicating statements in public that incite hatred against an identifiable group that will likely lead to a breach of the peace, or communicating statements, other than in private conversation, that promote hatred against a group.

"It's actually not an easy process to commence the Criminal Code prohibition on hate speech," Moon said. 

Unlike other charges, the prosecution requires the consent of the provincial attorney general. 

Moon says that doesn't mean there can't be a law put in place banning the sale of items symbolizing hate in Canada.

"I think in the current climate there might be greater support for restrictions of this kind," he said. 

Panylo, who organized and hosted the Black Lives Matter protest in Oshawa, says she'd like to see that law come to fruition.

"I think that's where we have to start drawing lines, and hard lines at that," she said.

"Because  a symbol to you is just a symbol, but to somebody else it's their entire ancestry's worst oppression, murder, rape, abuse, history of enslavement ... and essential genocide."

About the Author

Angelina King is a reporter with CBC Toronto where she covers a wide range of stories. She has a particular interest in crime, legal and justice issues and human interest stories. She previously reported on national and international news. Angelina got her start in her home city of Saskatoon where she spent much of her time covering the courts. You can contact her at angelina.king@cbc.ca or @angelinaaking

now