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Hate crime investigation launched surrounding Ezra Levant broadcast

The Roma Community Centre in Toronto wants police to investigate comments made by Ezra Levant in a recent broadcast on Sun News Network as a hate crime.

The centre says it has "officially reported a hate crime" about Ezra Levant's broadcast, "The Jew vs. the Gypsies" that aired on his show The Source on September 5. The Toronto Police Service confirmed to J-Source that they are investigating a complaint from the centre.

"The hate crime unit is investigating," said Toronto Police constable Wendy Drummond. "The complaint is new, and the investigation is ongoing."

No charges have been laid.

In the broadcast, Levant accused the Roma of cheating the Canadian refugee system, and stereotyped them as criminals. He said:

"These are gypsies, a culture synonymous with swindlers. The phrase gypsy and cheater have been so interchangeable historically that the word has entered the English language as a verb: he gypped me. Well the gypsies have gypped us. Too many have come here as false refugees. And they come here to gyp us again and rob us blind as they have done in Europe for centuries. . . They're gypsies. And one of the central characteristics of that culture is that their chief economy is theft and begging."

Sun News Network has since taken the clip in question down, and provided a retraction and apology. (But an audio mirror is here.)

J-Source contacted Levant, Sun News Network and a media spokesperson at Sun Media parent company Quebecor Media Inc. but has not yet received any comment.

Reaction to the initial Roma broadcast

Jewish community leaders also condemned the broadcast. "If the Sun News Network had aired an attack on Jews, the whole country would be outraged," they wrote in the opinion section of the National Post. "Yet we have seen little support for the Roma from other faith and ethno-cultural groups, politicians and community leaders in the wake of Levant's on-air rant. Even the media has remained mysteriously silent."

The Roma community in Canada is frequently under attack, according to Osgoode Hall Law School professors Benjamin Berger and Sean Rehaag who wrote an opinion piece in the Toronto Star. They called Levant's segment just the latest.

The Roma Community Centre argue its complaint is based on Section 319(2) of the Criminal Code which states "Every one who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty of" either an indictable offence punishable by imprisonment of not more than two years, or an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Gina Csanyi-Robah, the centre's executive director, said it has filed complaints with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission, and while investigations were launched, the centre felt the response from Sun Media wasn't satisfactory.

In addition to removing the broadcast, Sun News Network acknowledged the complaints it received and issued an on-screen apology to the Roma community. A transcript in full:

Two weeks ago on the Sun News program "The Source" we looked at the issue of Canadian refugee claims by the Roma people.

Following the broadcast we received a number of complaints from viewers who felt the broadcast reinforced negative stereotypes about the Roma people.

We have completed a review of the material and we agree that this content was inappropriate and should not have gone to air.

It was not the intent of Sun News, or anyone employed by Sun News, to promote negative stereotypes about the Roma people.

We regret our error in these broadcasts, and we apologize unreservedly to the Roma people and to you, our viewers.

Sun News is on your side.

The Roma community was troubled by that response, since the segment had already aired across Canada said Csanyi-Robah. As well, she said she expected the apology to come from Levant, or from both the network and Levant. "It wasn't even a true, legitimate apology that people would be aware of."

Csanyi-Robah said she was hoping for the network's license to be revoked, and for Levant to be disallowed from speaking on the network in the same manner towards any community in Canada. She said this wasn’t the first time Levant targeted the Roma community on the air, but this instance "went way above and beyond anything I've ever witnessed in Canadian media against any group in Canada."

"Regardless of what the response was going to be from the CRTC or the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, we were still going to pursue a hate crime (investigation)."

Levant's recent history with CBSC

The CBSC has investigated Levant before. In June it decided that he violated Clause 6 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Code of Ethics during a December broadcast. As a result, Sun News Network was required to announce the decision once during prime-time, and once more during Levant's show. However, Levant responded on his show by criticizing the CBSC, comparing the process to a kangaroo court, and repeated the phrase that prompted the investigation.

This in turn gave some, including journalist David Climenhaga -- who was one of the original complainants -- the impression that the CBSC is "toothless" as a regulator of the broadcast industry. He called for the airwaves to be "properly regulated by the government of Canada and not by a powerless self-regulating entity (CBSC)."

That December broadcast of "The Source" featured Levant criticizing Chiquita Banana over its decision to boycott Alberta's tar sands. He then directed his criticism at Chiquita's vice-president Manuel Rodriguez toward the end of the show. It ended with Levant hurling a profane Spanish insult directly at Rodriguez which translates to "F-ck your mother."

J-Source will update this story as it develops.

This article originally appeared on the Canadian Journalism Project's website.

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