Meeting a white supremacist’s hate in Canada with love
Last December, Reverend Anthony Bailey went to an Ottawa jail to see a teenager who had spray painted racist and threatening graffiti on his church. He hoped to offer support and show him the error of his ways.
“I was surprised that he agreed to meet with me, but I was glad,” Bailey, a black man with a predominately black congregation, said on Tuesday from the Parkdale United Church after Bible study. “I wanted to extend him an opportunity for us to get to know each other better, for him to get to know my community, and to see how we might come to a different way of treating each other.”
The Ottawa teen — whose identity is protected because he was 17 years old at the time of the crimes — was also charged in connection to a spate of hateful graffiti sprayed onto a local mosque and synagogue in November. On Friday, he pleaded guilty to five criminal charges including threatening people based on their religion and race, and inciting hatred against identifiable groups of people including black people, Muslims, and Jews. A jury will decide in May whether he should be sentenced as an adult, and the amount of jail time he’ll serve.
“I wanted to extend him an opportunity for us to get to know each other better, for him to get to know my community, and to see how we might come to a different way of treating each other.”
It’s one of the few times someone has been convicted under the hate crimes section of the Canadian federal criminal code, and experts are pointing to the case as an example for other communities to follow as they grapple with similar incidents. The rise of Donald Trump has corresponded to a rise in racist and xenophobic incidents and acts of violence across Canada, too, including a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque last month during prayers that left six people dead. This weekend, Toronto police announced they were investigating a series of anti-Semitic acts at an apartment building that included notes containing racial slurs, and someone removing Jewish symbols residents had placed on their doors.
According to court documents, the young Ottawa man, now 18 years old, is entrenched in the white supremacist movement and considers himself a soldier fighting to protect his race. He championed Hitler on social media, participated in white supremacist chatrooms, and proclaimed that “we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
Bailey, who chose not to speak about his jailhouse visit until now for fear of jeopardizing the case, has been confronting hateful acts for most of his life. His church was painted with racist slogans earlier last year ahead of a Martin Luther King Day celebration. And in 1976, his brother was stabbed to death during a racially-motivated attack in Montreal.
“It was clear that he had no remorse and did not think he did anything wrong, and that no harm was done.”
In the end, Bailey’s mission to engage the teen was disheartening, as his devotion to white supremacy runs deeper than the swastika and other white pride symbols tattooed on his body. If the teen had accepted Bailey’s offer, it could have meant no jail time.
Bailey sat with him for an hour while he described himself as a hitman for Hitler. He said he was part of a bigger group white supremacists like him in Ottawa, but wouldn’t provide names.
“It was clear that he had no remorse and did not think he did anything wrong, and that no harm was done,” Bailey continued. “As far as he was concerned, he felt that the white race is being subjugated by black Muslims and that people had to fight back.” The pair didn’t part ways on a bad note, but the man said Bailey wasn’t going to change his mind.
Bernie Farber, the executive director of the Mosaic Institute in Toronto who has served as an expert witness for hate crimes hearings, said this case provides a template for how police and the public should respond to hate crimes.
“I highly commend the manner in which the Ottawa police investigated this case and how speedily they were able to bring it to a resolution,” Farber said in an interview, adding that it’s very rare for communities to see this type of swift response. “The police were literally on top of this from the very beginning, and brought to a conclusion within eight days. It was remarkable.”
“The police were literally on top of this from the very beginning, and brought to a conclusion within eight days. It was remarkable.”
He said there’s only be around 10 prosecutions across Canada of hate propaganda cases due in part to a lack of understanding about the law among most police forces and prosecutors.
“When a bank is robbed, it’s a pretty straightforward case. When you have crimes that deal with hate motivation, you’re getting into some deep crevices that police have problems with,” explained Farber.
As with the young Ottawa man, when the offender is unwilling to admit they were wrong, it means they will very likely reoffend upon release back into the community. “This is the kind of thing that Ottawa is going to have to consider [during sentencing]. A person like this who refuses to engage in any form of understanding or rehabilitation, it’s essentially very dangerous.”
As for Bailey, he prays every day that the man who defaced his place of worship will be spiritually transformed in the future. “If I ever had another opportunity, I would still go and see him and still speak to him,” he said, adding that he and his congregation will continue to practice their faith without fear. “The things that he has done is hurtful to many people, but we have a choice with what we do with how we’re hurt,” he said. “I resist seeking vengeance and hate, I prefer to guard my heart with love.”
Cover: Justin Tang/The Canadian Press