There is no right to free speech in Canada. None. And the Canadian Constitution fails to grant basic property rights either.
If Eric Brazau had any lingering doubt about how seriously Torontonians take the matter of their vaunted tolerance, it may have been dispelled Tuesday when a judge sentenced him to an extra year in jail for stepping into an apparent crucible of Canadian values — a subway train.
The 50-year-old Mr. Brazau is a convicted hate-monger and a bit of a crank who last July, with two acquaintances, decided to conduct a “social experiment” on the Toronto subway.
At the time, as the situation in Gaza was deteriorating, there were heated protests for and against Israel in the city.
Mr. Brazau’s idea was allegedly to provoke debate among riders, and to that end he boarded the train with an acquaintance decked out in Israeli colours and carrying an Israeli flag and another acquaintance who was to video the proceedings, while Mr. Brazau began loudly denouncing Islam and its holy book, the Koran.
Astonishingly in a province where those convicted of more serious offences regularly receive suspended sentences or house arrest, Mr. Brazau was denied bail and has been in custody since his arrest that day, July 29, or for five months and nine days.
Ontario Court Judge Gerald Lapkin smartly convicted Mr. Brazau of the three charges he was facing — breach of the peace (by interfering with Toronto Transit Commission service), causing a disturbance (by using insulting language) and breaching his probation on the earlier hate-mongering conviction.
“You had a ticket to ride,” Judge Lapkin told him. “Not a pass to harass.”
“You had a ticket to ride,” Judge Lapkin told him. “Not a pass to harass”
Later, as he was adding a weapons ban to Mr. Brazau’s conditions for the two years he will eventually spend on probation, Judge Lapkin snapped, “Language can be a weapon too, Mr. Brazau.”
Prosecutor Paul Zambonini had asked the judge to impose a sentence of “another six months in jail or more,” but the judge doubled that and gave Mr. Brazau a total sentence of 20 months for the three convictions, which, minus the eight months’ credit he received at a 1.5:1 rate for his time in pre-trial custody, means he will be behind bars another year.
It is surely a stern sentence for conduct that didn’t involve profanity or violence, as even Jasmina Dizdarevic, a mother who was in the subway car with her two youngsters and who testified in court, told the judge.
Ms. Dizdarevic noticed Mr. Brazau quickly. He was standing in the middle of the car, she said, “having fairly loud, argumentative, opinionated conversations … about his interpretations of the Koran and Islam and Muslim people.”
At a certain point, she said, an unidentified university-aged man objected to Mr. Brazau’s remarks and told him he was a Muslim who had “left my country to come to a peaceful place.” As he got off at the next stop, Ms. Dizdarevic said, the young man told Mr. Brazau it was nice to meet him and he respected him, to which Mr. Brazau replied, “It wasn’t nice to meet you and I hate, or I don’t like, Muslims.”
As all around her she said people gasped in horror, “I said, ‘Wow! Unbelievable!’” and at that point, Mr. Brazau turned his focus on her.
She said she felt intimidated, though not in danger, and the video shot by Mr. Brazau’s acquaintance, which was introduced at trial, shows the young mother holding her own.
At one point, she may have even raised the issue of Israel bombing Palestinians — the comment is barely audible on the video — but certainly, as Mr. Brazau said in his testimony, Ms. Dizdarevic “was giving as good as she got.”
Questioned by Mr. Brazau’s lawyer, Moshe Micha, she denied she “didn’t like what he [Mr. Brazau] said,” but said rather “I didn’t like how uncomfortable he was making people,” particularly three young women at the end of the car, whom she said were wearing the hijab and appeared to her to be keeping their eyes down so as not to draw Mr. Brazau’s attentions.
Still, things might have ended peaceably there — this tough young woman coolly holding her ground with the loutish Mr. Brazau — without incident. Ms. Dizdarevic was on her way to pick up her car from the mechanic’s, and on a deadline.
But a male passenger — unidentified, he didn’t testify — pressed the emergency button; the alarm is audible on the short video.
Ms. Dizdarevic said the man later told her he was worried about her, but she said she was never concerned for her children’s safety or that she couldn’t have walked away.
The train stopped at Islington station, where TTC officials tried to persuade Mr. Brazau to leave. But he was outraged by then — by the button-pusher, whom he accused of “showing his daughter the right way to be a Canadian!” — and refused.
After a short delay, the train continued to Kipling station (the end of the line), where TTC supervisor Kevin Ward tried to persuade Mr. Brazau to leave. For a time chaos ensued, as newly arriving passengers, followed by Mr. Brazau, bounced from train to train, trying to find one that would move, until finally, he was arrested by Toronto Police.
Asked by Mr. Zambonini if he didn’t think that his remarks would provoke “a response in the minds of most right-thinking Canadians” who pride themselves on their collective tolerance, Mr. Brazau replied that “You can react negatively, but I’m not sure that’s an emergency-button offence.”
Judge Lapkin gave Mr. Brazau the stiffest penalty, 10 months, for breaching his probation on the earlier hate-mongering offence, which saw him handing out graphic pamphlets about Muslims that he entitled, “They are here and breeding.”
Part of his conditions, imposed only several months before, were to keep the peace and be of good behaviour.
Ironically, Mr. Brazau said that as his “social experiment” began that day, “me and this other gentleman were having a conversation about whether we could [even] have the conversation.”
They have the answer, it appears — a resounding no.
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