Calgary police say that during a rally on Sunday a man took to the stage to speak to the large crowd in attendance and that he repeatedly used an antisemitic phrase while encouraging the crowd to follow along.
After consultation with the Calgary Police Service hate crimes coordinator, the man was charged with causing a disturbance and hate motivation has been applied to the charge.
On Tuesday, police announced Wesam Cooley was charged following the Sunday protests supporting Israel and Palestinians.
The phrase in question has been used in pro-Palestinian circles and political movements since the establishment of the modern state of Israel.
The Calgary Jewish Federation is thanking the Calgary Police Service for “taking swift action against the protester who was publicly inciting hate.”
“This arrest will hopefully set a precedent not only in Calgary but in other cities,” reads a statement from the Calgary Jewish Federation. “There has been an alarming increase around the use of known antisemitic phrases, and it is important that they are being called out as hate speech and prosecuted as such.”
A national Muslim organization said it was following Cooley’s arrest and charge with “great concern.”
“Our initial review of the facts suggests a grave overreach of Calgary police in this instance,” the National Council of Canadian Muslims said. “To be clear, non-violent and peaceful protests about Palestinian human rights should never be criminalized.”
The group will be retaining legal counsel to ensure that the individual has a right to a fair trial.
Mount Royal University justice studies professor Doug King said causing a disturbance is a relatively infrequent charge, especially combined with hate motivation.
“I’ve never heard it being used as in this environment, in terms of hate motivation as a factor,” King said on Thursday.
One local activist said Calgary’s Muslim community has been affected by the charges.
“This arrest and the subsequent charges sends a foreboding message to our community,” said Calgary activist Saima Jamal. “To label this as an offensive or antisemitic act is a grave misjudgment that only serves to deepen divisions and stifle necessary conversations.”
Jamal is asking Calgary Police to consider the gravity of this situation and drop all charges
“We cannot allow others to define for us what our words mean,” Jamal said.
In a statement clarifying the charges, CPS reiterated they “police behaviour and not beliefs” and officers are mandated with the safety of protesters, the public and police.
“The circumstances and full context of the behaviour of the individual involved was considered in laying the charge of causing a disturbance and in applying hate motivation to that charge. The behaviour that led to charges was considered in the context of the specific situation, all of which is broader than a single phrase, gesture, sign or symbol in isolation.”
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