Alberta's Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS) has stayed a hate motivation charge against a Calgary man for using a contentious phrase that some argue is a call to commit genocide against the Jewish people.
On November 5, Calgary Police charged Wesam Cooley, also known as Wesam Khalid, for causing a disturbance during an 'anti-Israel' protest. Officers applied a hate motivation designation to the charge, after the accused chanted: "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free."
Cooley's lawyer, Zachary Al-Khatib, claimed no hate exists in advocating freedom and equality for Palestinians from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. "It is unfortunate that a Calgary police officer acted as he did in this situation," he said in an emailed statement to the Canadian Press earlier this week.
Yair Szlak, president and CEO of Jewish advocacy organization Federation CJA, told the National Post he considers the phrase to be hate speech.
"Israel is bordered […] on one hand by the Jordan River and on the other side by the Mediterranean Sea," he said. "When you have […] people chanting 'from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,' the question I would pose is: Where do the Jewish people go?"
“Going into the ocean is not an answer," added Szlak. "That is hate speech, that is targeting a group of people and saying you don’t belong in that country."
Since the devastating October 7 terror attack in Israel by Hamas, the phrase "from the river to the sea" has been repeatedly peddled at 'anti-Israel' rallies, following the slaughter of more than 1,200 Israeli Jews and foreign nationals.
Nevertheless, Crown prosecutors determined the accused has "no reasonable likelihood of conviction," after an 'independent' and thorough review' of the charge. ACPS spokesperson Michelle Davio clarified the matter "did not meet the ACPS threshold for prosecution."
Al-Khatib felt 'heartened' by the verdict Friday, thanking the prosecution service for acting swiftly on the matter concerning his client.
"Charges like these need careful consideration," reiterated the lawyer, adding it had "no merit" in the case of Wesam Cooley.
Calgary police did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday from the Canadian Press.
The National Council for Canadian Muslims highlighted theirs concerns regarding the charge on X, claiming Calgary police charged "someone participating in a peaceful protest."
"Advocacy and free expression for Palestinian rights is not a crime," they said. "We will always defend the right to peaceful protest in Canada."
"None of us — no matter our stance on this conflict — should want our society to be a place where political speech is criminalized," said Al-Khatib in a follow-up statement Friday afternoon. "Ideas and political slogans should be debated and decided in the public square."