Jamie Sarkonak: Jon Kay’s legal victory exposes Canadian Anti-Hate Network’s anti-conservative agenda

Jamie Sarkonak: Jon Kay’s legal victory exposes Canadian Anti-Hate Network’s anti-conservative agenda

(National Post, November 24, 2022)


This is a politically motivated group that has no qualms about accusing mainstream conservatives of being racist and using the legal system to try to silence them.

A recent decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has given Canadians yet another reason to question the federal government’s relationship with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN),

On Nov. 10, the court dismissed a defamation lawsuit launched by lawyer Richard Warman, also a board member of CAHN. Warman sued journalists Jonathan and Barbara Kay for tweets that criticized CAHN’s links to the Antifa movement in the United States, which has been covered by C2C Journal and The Federalist (the Kays did not name Warman himself in their tweets). In the end, the judge ruled that the tweets weren’t defamatory, which meant the Kays wouldn’t be liable.

Even if the tweets did meet the legal threshold to be considered defamatory, the Kays would have been saved by the legal defences available. The judge said that the statements made had the benefit of being true, noting that, “CAHN did in fact assist Antifa and that the movement has been violent,” and it would be reasonable to state that it is not a “good look” for a human rights organization to support a violent movement.

Additionally, the judge concluded the defence of fair comment could apply, meaning the opinions expressed by the Kays could be reasonably drawn from the known facts and were not expressed out of malice. The judge noted that even “Warman’s evidence was that he and CAHN were part of the Antifa movement,” and its “muscular resistance” and “physical disruption” were known to two other board members.

The decision tells us two things: that there are members of CAHN who are willing to use the legal system to silence its critics, and that there is a relationship between CAHN and the Antifa movement. It’s yet another indicator that the Government of Canada — particularly the Department of Canadian Heritage — should distance itself from the organization.

CAHN has received government funding in the past, including a grant of $268,400 to participate in an “anti-racism action program” from October 2020 to March 2022. The grant agreement, obtained through an access to information request, shows that the money was used to hire additional staff members, facilitate workshops, write articles about hate groups (CAHN covers everyone from far-right neo-nazis to conservative-leaning school board candidates)  and engage on social media.

A “recommendation for ministerial approval” form (also obtained through an access to information request), which is used by bureaucrats to review the grant application prior to its approval, described the expected outcomes:  “This project will increase the organization’s capacity to counter online hate by hiring four team members to carry out the monitoring of extreme-right groups, report on their activities and file complaints with law enforcement; it will educate the public as to these groups and the damage they create, and will share information through 10,000 Facebook and Twitter followers.”

Reporting citizens to police wasn’t an expectation written into the final grant agreement, but it’s concerning that paying a third-party group to investigate people for the purpose of initiating criminal investigations was on the table in the first place.

On top of that, CAHN has advised the government on numerous occasions. Records from an access to information request show that it was listed as a Canadian Heritage stakeholder on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s vaccine roll-out round-table. That was in January 2021, a month after CAHN signed its contract with the federal government.

In March 2022 — the month the government grant was set to expire — Canadian Heritage created an advisory group to help it craft its online censorship legislation. Among the appointees was Bernie Farber, chair of the CAHN. (Months before he was named to the panel, Farber told the CBC that when it comes to internet regulation, “I would rather have poorly worded legislation than nothing at all.”) The panellists could be paid a maximum of $27,000 for their work.

The panel made a number of recommendations for an online censorship regime, one of which was public education: specifically, the implementation of “programs to improve media literacy and developing a concept of e-citizenship through outreach programs in schools and communities.”

The recommendations were released on June 15, 2022. A couple weeks later, the Government of Canada and CAHN launched an “anti-hate toolkit” for use in schools — a project that was supported by the Canadian Heritage grant. The toolkit’s focus was on far-right radicalization (it should be noted that far-left radicalization and Islamic radicalization, which have also been problems in Canada, were not mentioned in it).

Among other things, the toolkit outlined problematic behaviours in students that should be reported to teachers and corrected, including displaying the Red Ensign (Canada’s former flag), the use of various memes and supporting unsavoury politicians like former U.S. president Donald Trump.

The toolkit is very much a political document that primarily targets the far-right. But in doing so, it goes after mild traditionalism, classical liberal stances on social policy and mainstream conservative values, as well.

Despite the fact the organization was only just incorporated in 2018, members of CAHN have appeared before parliamentary committees multiple times since 2019, often to discuss social policy and public safety. Its members also often appear in the media as independent “experts” on the subject hate.

This is a politically motivated group that is now recognized by a court to be associated with Antifa, and has no qualms about accusing mainstream conservatives of being racist and using the legal system to try to silence them. It’s free to advocate for whatever it wants, but the federal government shouldn’t be using the group to push fundamentally illiberal views on the limits of free speech in a free and democratic society.