One man’s war on Internet hate
He calls himself more ‘Aryan’ than the hatemongers he chases, but Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman has become the bête noire of Canada’s ne0-Nazis, writes DON BUTLER.
His admirers call him one of the bravest people in Canada. His enemies rage that he’s a “professional complainer” and “devious character” who suppresses their freedom of speech. The most extreme openly call for his death.
But whatever you think of Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman, this much seems clear: He’s the Canadian neo-Nazi movement’s worst nightmare.
Over the past half-dozen years, Mr. Warman, acting on his own, has lodged 15 complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against neo-Nazis and white supremacists for spreading hatred on the Internet against Jews, blacks, homosexuals and other target groups.
Nine of his complaints have led to rulings by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that shut down hate websites.
His most recent victory came yesterday, when the tribunal upheld his complaint against Vanier resident Bobby James Wilkinson, who operated the “Canadian Nazi Party” website. The tribunal fined Mr. Wilkinson $4,000 and ordered him to stop using the Internet to spread hatred.
Two other complaints were settled, to Mr. Warman’s satisfaction, in mediation. The rest are still winding their way through the system.
Of the 11 human rights tribunal rulings to date on Internet hate, Richard Warman was the complainant in nine — including every ruling since 2002. He estimates he’s spent more than $30,000 of his own money pursuing his complaints.
“He’s had an enormous impact,” says Michael Geist, the Canadian research chair in Internet and ecommerce law at the University of Ottawa. “In a sense, he’s got the mechanics of how we deal with online hate up and running. It’s fair to say no one has been as effective or persistent.”
The result is a body of jurisprudence that leaves little doubt Canadian law applies to online hate speech that originates in this coun- try. The decisions, says Mr. Geist, “have sent a clear warning to those who engage in hate speech that this is not a no-law land.”
Toronto lawyer Warren Kinsella, whose 1994 book,
Web of Hate, enraged the radical right, calls Mr. Warman “extraordinarily courageous. Most people do not understand that when you speak up against terrorists — in this case, farright terrorists — they do not thereafter engage you in scholarly debate. Sometimes, they want to kill you. Warman knows that, but he keeps going.”
That makes him, in Mr. Kinsella’s estimation, “one of the bravest people in Canada.” ‘NAZI’WEBSITE: OTTAWA MAN FINED FOR SPREADING HATE ON INTERNET, A11
Last month, the Canadian Jewish Congress recognized Mr. Warman’s efforts with the prestigious Saul Hayes Human Rights Award. Yet despite the default assumptions of his neoNazi enemies, he’s not a Jew. In fact, he’s not a member of any of the racial or religious groups hatemongers routinely target.
“I’m a WASP boy from smalltown Ontario,” confesses Mr. Warman, a fit-looking man in his late 30s with close-cropped blond hair.
“I’m actually more Aryan by the stereotypical definition than some of the defendants in these cases.”
To Len Rudner, the Canadian Jewish Congress’s national director of community relations, that simply makes Mr. Warman’s solo crusade all the more remarkable.
“The fact that Richard says through his deeds, ‘this is my problem, not because I’m a Jew, but because I’m a Canadian,’ is certainly meaningful to me, and it should be meaningful to everybody,” says Mr. Rudner.
“It’s easy to applaud from the back rows,” he says, “far more difficult to be in the orchestra pit leading the band. And that’s where Richard is.”
It’s frequently not a very comfortable place to be. After Mr. Warman launched his first complaint in 2002 against Fred Kyburz, an Alberta man who was targeting Jews on his website, Mr. Kyburz retaliated by trying to get him fired from his government job.
He also threatened to sue Mr. Warman and deploy “flyers” to ruin his reputation, and made veiled threats against his life. After upholding Mr. Warman’s complaint, the human rights tribunal ordered Mr. Kyburz to pay him $30,000 in compensation for his retaliation and threats, though Mr. Warman has yet to see a penny.
Last year, when one of Mr. Warman’s complaints led to the jailing of London, Ont., white supremacist Tomasz Winnicki, two U.S. neo-Nazi websites called for Mr. Warman’s death.
One site said killing him and others involved in the case “would be a genuine act of patriotism.” Another, run by Virginian Bill White, head of the American National Socialist Workers Party, published Mr. Warman’s home address and phone number, adding: “Aryan brothers are encouraged to pay the sonofabitch communist a visit.” Mr. White later told CBC that Mr. Warman deserved to be killed, a view he has since repeated on various websites.
Mr. Warman, whose affable manner masks inner steel, says he was initially taken aback by the threats. “I had no idea that people would be so psychotic as to start posting death threats,” he says.
He’s come to understand, though, that such tribulations come with the territory he has chosen to inhabit. “Human rights work and advancement will always come with some level of cost,” he recognizes. But he won’t be intimidated. “I would never give the satisfaction and the victory to the hatemongers.”
The threats have, however, made him far more cautious and private. He won’t talk about where he works, for example, acknowledging only that it’s with the federal government. Nor will Mr. Warman, who was born into a military family in Lahr, West Germany, say where he was raised, to protect family members.
“When you have people out there inciting people to murder you, giving your home address, giving your picture and providing them with maps on how to get there,” he says, “it really forces you to build up some fairly high personal walls.”
Mr. Warman has been monitoring neo-Nazis and white supremacists for nearly two decades, but turned to the task in earnest while articling at the Federal Court in Ottawa after graduating from McGill with a master’s degree in law in 1999.
He’d been inspired by a human rights tribunal hearing he attended in 1998 involving the Canadian Heritage Front, then Canada’s largest neo-Nazi group. He watched in admiration as the human rights commission’s lawyer, Eddie Taylor, led the assault.
“He looked like he had just stepped off his Harley,” he recalls of Mr. Taylor. “He had his shit-kickers on in court, he had this great big white beard, this shock of white long hair tied back in a ponytail. It was like poetry watching him kick the Heritage Front around the tribunal hearing room.”
That 1998 hearing dealt with a telephone hate line operated by the Heritage Front. But even then, far right groups were turning in droves to the Internet to disseminate their poisonous messages.
Mr. Warman knew that in Canada, the pool of leadership figures within the neo-Nazi movement was fairly shallow. “So I basically said, if you targeted the leadership and the worst offenders of this movement in a systemic fashion, you could then knock these people off the greatest communications tool that had been invented for their purposes.”
He set about doing just that, beginning with Mr. Kyburz in early 2002. “If you wanted someone on a worst offender basis, he was up there,” he says.
On an almost daily basis, Mr. Kyburz was “cranking out hate propaganda” against Jews from his website, Patriots on Guard. “He’d gotten to the point where he was posting material that advocated the genocide of the Jewish community.”
His eyes widen at the memory. “You can’t believe that in the 21st century there are still people out there who cling to this kind of disgraceful and utterly repulsive hatemongering.”
He had to endure a nasty counter-attack from Mr. Kyburz, but Mr. Warman prevailed. On May 9, 2003, the human rights tribunal ordered Mr. Kyburz to shut down his web forum and refrain from posting similar hateful messages elsewhere on the Internet. As well as ordering Mr. Kyburz to pay Mr. Warman compensation, the tribunal fined him $7,500.
Mr. Warman continued to scour the Internet for Canadian hatemongers, finding many at a U.S. neo-Nazi site called Stormfront, whose web forum has a Canadian section. “It’s almost like moths to a flame,” he says. “They can’t avoid it.”
He won another tribunal victory in 2005, but that was just a prelude to his stunning success in 2006, when the tribunal upheld no fewer than five of his complaints.
The most memorable was against Mr. Winnicki, London, Ont.’s self-confessed “biggest hater.” Even before the case reached the tribunal, Mr. Warman was pushing the human rights commission to take some action because, he says, “the material was horrific and it just kept going.”
In 2005, the commission applied for, and got, an interim injunction from the Federal Court ordering Mr. Winnicki to stop spreading hatred on the Internet until the tribunal heard and decided his case.
“That was the first-ever injunction dealing with Internet hate,” says Mr. Warman. “It was incredibly rewarding to see the law being advanced by virtue of the cases that I had brought.”
Mr. Winnicki ignored the injunction and was subsequently sentenced to nine months in jail for contempt, a sentence later reduced to three months on appeal. That was another first — the first time someone in Canada was imprisoned for posting hate on the Internet. Mean- while, the tribunal ruled against him, fining him $6,000 for his “vicious and dehumanizing” messages.
While Mr. Warman’s successes are gratifying, they have come at a cost that goes beyond the merely financial. There are the threats, of course, and the need they impose to take precautions. But he also believes he’s paid a price in career terms.
Between 2002 and 2004, he worked as an investigator for the human rights commission. (He insists he pursued his complaints on his own time and they had no connection with his commission work.)
When the commission decided to reallocate resources in 2004, Mr. Warman was the only investigator laid off. He’s convinced the actions of the neoNazi community were a factor in that decision, and alleges so in an ongoing libel action against one of the Canadian far right’s most prominent figures, Paul Fromm, a frequent adversary at tribunal hearings.
Given the dangers and difficulties, many might ask why he persists.
He turns the question around. “Let’s say you found out that somebody was calling for the genocide of your neighbour. Isn’t it incumbent on everyone to say, ‘it’s not OK and that’s got to be stopped’?” he demands.
“I don’t really want to see my Jewish neighbours wiped out. I don’t really want to see my black neighbours wiped out, or anyone else who’s among the target group.”
Part of his motivation comes from having relatives who fought Nazis in the Second World War. “It’s really a betrayal of the veterans and all those who contributed in World War II to ignore the ongoing threat from these groups that are seeking to resurrect an idea that should have died 60 years ago in a bunker in Berlin.”
He also feels it’s incumbent on him as a lawyer to repay the investment society made in his education by working for the societal good. Ignoring the problem, he insists, would be “betraying my duty to the profession.
“It’s imperative that individuals and groups take steps as strong as they can to defend human rights in Canada,” he says. “Because if they’re not defended, they get undermined. Eventually they get worn down through disuse. I could never bear to see that happen.”
Anti-Semitism and racism, he argues, are a community problem and need to be treated as such. “There’s never been a history of genocide that hasn’t been proceeded by demonization.”
While his neo-Nazi adversaries try to paint him as a foe of free speech, Mr. Warman, a four-time candidate for the Green party, notes that the Supreme Court has consistently denied protection to those who direct hatred at identifiable groups. “It is so poisonous and so toxic to the multicultural nature of modern Canadian society that it is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
According to Mr. Geist, the far right’s vilification of Mr. War- man is misdirected. “In a sense, their beef is with the government and society as a whole,” he says. Mr. Warman “is simply using the legal tools that we as a society have chosen to create to try to deal with this issue.”
After nearly seven years in the anti-hatred trenches, Mr. Warman says he has accomplished many of his goals. He’s been able to shut down the worst offenders and establish that the Internet is not the Wild West, “somewhere where you could just run amok.”
He also wanted to show that people can be held accountable for their actions. He feels he’s done that, too, though the system is so cumbersome it often reinforces the barriers to pursuing hatemongers.
“There’s got to be some method of improving the system so it doesn’t take two to four years to have these cases go from start to finish,” he says. Better funding for human rights bodies would help. “If you’re serious about saying that society needs to be protected from hate speech,” he says, “then you have to put your money where your mouth is.”
Mr. Warman is constantly evaluating his one-man crusade, “to make sure it’s making a useful contribution and that it’s something I’ve still got the fire in the belly over.” He pauses, perhaps contemplating the next white supremacist in his sights. “Up to this point, I haven’t had any problems with either of those.”
Bad news for the haters: Richard Warman isn’t going away any time soon.