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James Sears is pictured, amongst back copies of Your Ward News, in the newspapers' shuttered offices in Toronto, on June 7, 2016.

Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

The editor and the owner of a Toronto publication that features Nazi imagery and vilifies Jews, women and other groups is facing hate speech charges, escalating a years-long battle that hinges on competing interpretations of free speech and hate-speech statutes.

James Sears, editor of Your Ward News, and Leroy St. Germaine, the owner and publisher, have been charged with willful promotion of hatred against Jews and willful promotion of hatred against women. The duo surrendered to police on Wednesday morning.

In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, Mr. Sears called the charges "politically motivated" and vowed to launch a constitutional challenge against the hate-speech law.

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A spokesman for Attorney-General Yasir Naqvi said these are the first hate-crime charges that allege promotion of hatred against women in Ontario.

"Hate crimes are, by their very nature, serious offences because their impacts can be devastating, spreading from the individual, through the social fabric of our communities as a whole," Mr. Naqvi said in an e-mailed statement. "Our government takes allegations of hate crime very seriously. Ontario prosecutes these cases vigorously, where there is a reasonable prospect of conviction."

By law, police must request formal consent from the Attorney-General to lay hate crime charges. Mr. Naqvi's press secretary, Andrew Rudyk, said consent was given after "a thorough investigation and review was undertaken by both investigators and the ministry in relation to this matter."

The Toronto Police Hate Crimes Unit investigated the case based on complaints it began receiving in 2015, but the force did not disclose what prompted it to act now. A police press release states that the "two men published and disseminated a number of editions of Your Ward News that promoted hatred against members of the Jewish community and women."

Up until last year, the paper had been distributed door-to-door in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood through Canada Post. But community backlash led, in part, by prominent political strategists and Beaches residents Lisa and Warren Kinsella, prompted the federal government to issue an order banning Mr. Sears and Mr. St. Germaine from using the mail.

That order is now facing legal challenges. Mr. Sears hired high-profile Toronto lawyer Frank Addario in an attempt to have the prohibition overturned, and groups such as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University have argued that it is unconstitutional.

Police have been inundated with complaints about Your Ward News since March, 2015, when residents noticed the paper's content morph from eccentric but harmless political screeds into a publication focused on maligning women, Jews, Muslims and the LGBTQ community.

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That's when the Kinsellas began organizing against it. A boycott of advertisers led by community groups scared away much of the paper's ad base, but its size and distribution area only grew.

"I've heard from people as far away as London and Niagara who've received this rag," Mr. Kinsella said. "It's really metastasized."

Several Jewish groups applauded police for laying the charges on Wednesday.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs says it and other community activists have provided Toronto police with "evidence of antisemitic, racist, misogynist, and pro-Nazi content" in the publication.

"There is no place in our city for the mass promotion of hatred against women and minorities," CIJA chair Berl Nadler said on Wednesday in a statement.

The case appears destined for a date with the Supreme Court, according to some observers.

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James Turk, a professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism and director of the Centre for Free Expression, acknowledged that Your Ward News is full of "really nasty stuff" but does not cross the line of what can be tolerated in Canadian society.

"I think what [it] has to say is dead wrong and deeply offensive," he said. "I have no doubt that it will appear that way to any right-thinking person. The best way to deal with speech like that is to expose it, criticize it, denounce it, but not to suppress it. When you start giving the state the right to decide what can and can't be heard, you go down a very dangerous road."

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