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Activist arrested

B.C. civil liberties group denounces state attack on free speech

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In a letter sent to the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and the B.C. Prosecution Service on June 11, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has expressed concern over incitement and promotion of hatred charges laid against Charlotte Kates, the International Coordinator for the Palestinian prison solidarity network, Samidoun.

On April 29, Kates was confronted and arrested on a bus by VPD officers for allegedly committing two offences at a “Free Palestine” rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery three days earlier. VPD charged Kates with public incitement of hatred and wilful promotion of hatred. 

In a video, Kates can be seen praising the strike by several Palestinian armed groups against the Israeli military on October 7. She does not appear to incite hatred towards any particular population, nor to express support for any particular Palestinian group. Rather, she describes the attacks as resistance and deplores the indifference of politicians to the deaths of over 40,000 Palestinians following October 7.

In its letter, BCCLA asks “that the investigation and charge approval process consider Kates’s constitutionally protected expression during its engagement,” citing the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

BCCLA called the charges an “overreach,” saying it “sets a dangerous precedent,” criminalizing expressions of support for Palestinian resistance to colonialism, occupation and apartheid. “Charges of this nature not only serve to silence the political speech of the individual charged, but also have a chilling effect on protest and freedom of expression for everyone.”

Samidoun, in a statement of support of Kates posted on May 6, called the charges an attack on their work for solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners and the Palestinian struggle for liberation.

Kates was released from custody with an order mandating a court appearance on October 8, 2024, with an additional condition barring her from attending “any protests, demonstrations, or assemblies.”

Citing the Canadian Supreme Court case R. v. Zora, BCCLA states that the Court has previously established the necessity for careful scrutiny of the restriction of political speech as a pre-trial condition, agreeing with the description of such restrictions in other cases as “criminalization of dissent.”

BCCLA ends the letter by stating that “the public interest always lies in open political discourse and is not served in shutting down dialogue through the misuse of the Criminal Code to remove a dissenting voice.”

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