Footage of James Sears receiving a “free speech” award from a long-time neo-Nazi includes remarks from the former doctor and jokes about the Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam being publicly executed – alongside a statement that he never said anything bad about Jews or women.
Sears, who was on parole after serving four of his 12-month sentence for promoting hatred in his newspaper, Your Ward News, was arrested by the Toronto Police Service on Thursday for breaching his release conditions.
A TPS spokesperson told the Canadian Anti-Hate Network this was for “Hate Speech.”
"For several years I, and many others deeply committed to the elimination of hate speech, worked diligently to see the vile rag Your Ward News shut down," said Lisa Kirbie, the CEO of Blackbird Strategies, a boutique communications and lobbying firm. "When Sears and its publisher St. Germaine were finally convicted of the promotion of hatred against women and Jews, we felt vindicated and very relieved."
Kirbie adds that she is appreciative of the law enforcement and courts for taking Sears back into custody so quickly, and was pleased to have had a small part in this latest action.
In November 2021, Paul Fromm presented Sears with the 2021 George Orwell Free Speech Award. Sears took this as an opportunity to launch into a long and winding talk that covered all his usual complaints about his legal case, but also touched on his ideas about solving the pandemic.
“If the Nazis were in charge [the pandemic] would’ve ended in two weeks,” Sears told the small crowd, cheering crowd.
He went on to describe a scenario where Hitler would have found Dr. Tam guilty of treason and sentenced her to death for being behind a Communist plot. Sears, revelling in the laughs, described a truly Canadian public execution which he imagined would take place during halftime at a hockey game.
“[Dr. Tam] would’ve been tied to a pole in center ice and she would’ve been sentenced to death by high sticking.”
He insists he is “only joking” and doesn’t want real harm to come to her, but went on to suggest Hitler would have made a joke that “there’s a face-off in the corner.”
These distasteful “jokes” were only the start, however. Sears’ problematic views of women were on full display when he expressed bewilderment about his conviction.
“I wrote [in Your Ward News] that men treat their cars better than their women and I wrote that if men thought of their women as possessions they’d treat them better,” Sears explained. “[The judge] said that’s dehumanizing towards women and it’s one of the worst things. It’s like, what? There’s no logic to any of it. I don’t understand. Nothing I’ve even said so far is a negative statement about Jews or women. I didn’t even say anything negative about them. And I said ‘precious chattel. Precious.’”
Aside from Sears’ conviction for promoting hatred, his stint as an obnoxious pick-up artist/local political candidate is well known, with his support of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s “gyne purging” of City Hall in 2013 as a particularly low point. Prior to that, many are aware that Sears lost his medical license for sexually assaulting patients during home care visits. These incidents had a significant impact on the victims who indicated they lived in fear and did not feel safe in their homes.
What is not as well known is that his frightening behaviour was documented as far back as his third year in medical school in the 1980s. As a member of the Armed Forces Medical Officer Training Plan, Sears attempted to enter a female officer’s quarters. Weapons, including knives, mace and a stun gun were found during a subsequent search of Sears’ room.
It is clear that Sears testing the limits of his parole conditions around hate speech, at an event where he received an award for his efforts to supposedly fight censorship, is entirely in keeping with his character and past behaviour.
Free Speech Award
The George Orwell Free Speech Award given to Sears has a long history in Canada’s hate circles. Founded and awarded by far-right lawyer Doug Christie, it was presented annually from 1986 through to the year of his death in 2013. Recipients included David Irving, who was arrested for surreptitiously entering Canada to attend the awards dinner in 1992; fellow racist defence attorney Barbara Kulaszka; antisemitic BC columnist Doug Collins; Free Dominion hosts Mark Fournier and Connie Wilkins-Fournier; Paul Fromm himself; and most famously, Vancouver lawyer Gary Botting who returned the award in 1996 and distanced himself from Christie and his views.
Fromm, a long-time supporter of both Sears and Christie, claimed during his award preamble that he talked to Christie’s widow, Keltie Zubko, to get her permission and blessing to resurrect the award and take over its annual stewardship. Along with a certificate that reads, “For Outstanding Courage in Challenging Censorship and Defending Freedom in Pursuit of the Truth And for Outstanding Talent in Satire and Defending Freedom of the Press,” Sears received a cash prize thanks to the support of a “friendly donor,” according to a website run by Fromm.
It is concerning to note that Fromm, in his opening remarks, states “we’re always grateful to the venue here, the library.”
While the event location is still being confirmed, the possibility that it may have been held within the Toronto Public Library system is greatly concerning. In response to outrage over Barbara Kulaszka’s memorial service being held at the Richview Library in Etobicoke, where Paul Fromm was a scheduled speaker, the TPL board revised its booking policy in 2018, allowing staff to deny or cancel bookings "when the library reasonably believes the purpose of the booking is likely to promote, or would have the effect of promoting, discrimination, contempt or hatred of any group."
This policy change designed to maintain a "welcoming and supportive environment free from discrimination and harassment" has already failed at least one public test. In October 2019, transphobic writer Meghan Murphy was allowed to speak at the Palmerston branch despite stiff opposition and protest.
Alissa Trotz, a professor in Women and Genders Studies at the University of Toronto, stated at the time, “in a context where the [transphobic] violence is so pervasive and so documented, on what planet would it have been okay for the Toronto Public Library to welcome a discussion and call it free speech?”
In the wake of the November George Orwell Award ceremony, it is a timely reminder for libraries, other public meeting venues, and law enforcement, that fostering inclusive and safe communities that are free from prejudice is not a one-time act. Rather, it is an ongoing commitment to center respect and care while maintaining vigilance in the face of unrelenting hate.