The RCMP is reviewing a posting to a Vancouver buy-and-sell group on Facebook that made light of the Holocaust, but an expert cautions that securing charges in such cases could be difficult.
The post advertised a "Jewish bunk bed for sale" with an image of an oven, a reference to the gas chambers and crematoria used to kill Jewish people and burn their bodies during the Holocaust. The ad was posted to the group, which has nearly 50,000 members, on Thursday and had been taken down by Friday morning.
Facebook user Rory Richards reported the post to the Vancouver Police Department's hate-crimes unit. She eventually received a response from the B.C. RCMP.
"From our team's perspective, this is exceptionally offensive commentary that has absolutely no place in any type of public forum, or civilized society, for that matter," RCMP Corporal Anthony Statham wrote in an e-mail to Ms. Richards.
"Please be assured that we will be looking at the material very carefully, and reviewing all posts to determine if any criminal offences have been committed."
RCMP spokesperson Staff Sergeant Annie Linteau confirmed the hate-crimes unit is reviewing the post but did not offer further details.
David Butt, a Toronto-based criminal lawyer, said the post meets the requirements for hate speech in his eyes, but getting a conviction would be an uphill battle. He noted hate-speech prosecutions require the consent of the province's attorney-general to proceed.
"Casual, flippant, transitory hate speech is not something this law is designed to respond to," Mr. Butt said.
Criminal law may not be nimble enough to deal with cases of online hate speech like this one, but Mr. Butt says there are other methods of dealing with hateful remarks online such as calling it out, protesting it and demanding websites that host the content be accountable.
Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, agreed.
"While in a way we do see more of it, we also see more people reporting it and being vigilant and watching out for it," he said. "It becomes very difficult to do this kind of stuff online because people are willing to stand up for it."
Mr. Farber said he also wants the post to be investigated as a hate crime. He said jokes about the Holocaust are never acceptable.
"There's nothing funny about the willful genocide of six million people. Even at 17 years old, you should know that," he said. "I am the son of a Holocaust survivor whose entire family was murdered in the death camps. [The post] is appalling. There's no other word for it."
The poster, whose name The Globe and Mail is not publishing because he's 17, said he found the meme in another Facebook group he's part of that's known for sharing offensive humour. He said he posted the meme in the more publicly accessible buy-and-sell group Thursday night because he was bored.
"It was a joke," he said in an interview. "I mean, how could you think I was actually selling an oven? You would have to be really dumb to think it's actually legitimate. If they didn't take it as a joke, well then I'm sorry."
After the post garnered so many comments, many of which furthered the anti-Semitic thread, he decided to take it down himself after about two hours.
"I guess it's cause we're teenagers. But that kind of humour is very dark … I actually sometimes find it very offensive sometimes," he said.
Ms. Richards, the Facebook user who reported the post to police, wants to invite the original poster to visit the Holocaust Centre at Vancouver's Jewish Community Centre to learn from survivors of the Holocaust that he made light of.
"The doors of our community are open for learning and reconciliation," she said.