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Anti-Muslim evangelist avoids prison sentence
Community service ordered over hate pamphlets

By Harold Levy
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

This article was published in the
Toronto Star on Jan 12, 1999
A man found guilty of inciting hatred against Canadian Muslims has been ordered to perform 340 hours of community service for Muslim organizations as part of a sentence that will keep him out of jail. Mark Harding, 43, of Thornbury, was convicted in June of disseminating pamphlets and telephone messages suggesting that all Muslims in Canada are terrorists.

``Muslims have perpetrated horrific acts of violent terrorism throughout the world in the name of their religion,'' one pamphlet distributed at Toronto's Weston Collegiate read.

``Canadian Muslims are no different from their brethren in other countries but they dishonestly masquerade as pacifists. They are like raging wolves in sheep's clothing . . . inside they are full of hate, violence and murder.''

Judge Sidney Linden ruled in June that while Harding's messages contained opinions of religious belief ``which he appears to sincerely hold,'' his writings also contained ``false allegations about the adherents of Islam calculated to arouse fear and hatred of them in all non-Muslim people . . .''

Prosecutor Michael Blain had asked Linden to impose a prison sentence ranging from three to six months, because of the fear Harding's hate messages aroused in young Muslim students and their families. He argued that the materials were ``more dangerous'' because they came ``from someone who is cloaking himself as a good Christian,'' rather than from an extremist such as a neo-Nazi.

``The fact that he purports to be a normal, average, everyday Christian makes it more deplorable to the Muslim community,'' Blain said.

But defence lawyer Peter Jervis argued that Harding, who had expressed remorse during his trial, would benefit more from a community service order that would educate him about Muslims, than from a prison sentence. Harding is a short, heavy-set, balding evangelist, with a Grade 8 education, who recently lost his job and suffered a heart attack.

Harding, who does not belong to any hate groups, or have any followers, apologized in court before Linden passed sentence. ``I'm sorry that I've caused these problems,'' Harding said. ``I hope I can correct any of the problems I have caused before they get out of hand.''

Linden said Harding's sentence should ``send a powerful message to the community at large that this sort of crime will not be tolerated, and (a message) to identifiable groups that they will be protected.''

In addition to the three-month term and 240 hours of community service, Harding will have to do 100 hours further work for the Muslim community during a two-year period of probation. Linden's decision was welcomed by Bernard Farber, executive director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Ontario division, who acted as an expert witness on hate propaganda for the prosecution.

``This has drawn that line across the country . . . in understanding that religion can only go so far in offering a means of protection against prosecution,'' Farber said.

Shavir Ally, president of Toronto's Islamic Information Centre, said the sentence ``is a deterrent for anyone else who would contemplate doing some such thing in the future.'' ``It is a lesson that Canada cannot accept the spreading of hate literature of any kind,'' Ally said.

``And the ruling should give him (Harding) exposure in dealing with Muslims first hand so that he can learn what sort of people Muslims really are, as opposed to the stereotypes.''

But Haroon Salamat, chairman of the Taric Islamic Centre in Toronto, another crown witness, said that ``while we are accepting Linden's conclusion and putting a closure on the situation, we are disappointed that the sentence was not harsher than it was as a deterrent for other people.''