Winnipeg Police have laid the first Internet hate-crime charges in North America after arresting a 17-year-old 'Net surfer known as Inbred Jed in the basement of his parents' North Kildonan home.
The case is seen as a precedent that will help shape the future direction of patrolling the information highway.
"This is the first time a police agency in North America has been able to deal with hate messages on the Internet", said Bernie Farber, hate-crimes expert for the Canadian Jewish Congress in Toronto.
"This will finally show people that the Internet is not a sacrosanct frontier where anything goes."
Local gay activist Mark Zoldy said he received the following threat over the Internet:
"Death to homosexuals; It's prescribed in the Bible! Better watch out next Gay Pride Week!!!"
The message was signed with the pseudonym Inbred Jed and "Winnipeg's newly formed gay bashing patrol".
Police were able to trace the message back through the youth's Internet account and arrived at the door of this parents' home just after 2 p.m. Wednesday with a search warrant.
The teenager answered the door with a chrome-plated handgun.
Youth met city police with a loaded pellet gun.
"The guys knocked at the door and were a bit surprised to see him standing there with a gun", said Det.-Sgt. Mike Ashley.
The youth dropped the weapon, which turned out to be a loaded pellet gun, slammed the door, and ran into the basement. Police say they forced their way into the house and arrested the youth while he tried to erase data from his computer.
Police say they found Nazi and anarchist paraphernalia in the youth's room along with a 1.5 meter wooden table leg that had been fashioned into a club. Police say the club was hanging over the youth's computer with "gay bat" written on one side and "Jew bat" written on the other.
The youth's computer was confiscated and its contents are being examined to see if more charges should be laid.
When contacted yesterday, the youth's parents dismissed their son's actions as a "childish prank".
The youth is charged with uttering threats to kill and possession of a weapon dangerous to the public peace.
Ron Dallmeier, manager of Mbnet, the Internet service provider at the University of Manitoba, said the incident will be an important precedent for the Internet, but cautioned that the crime alleged is not any more serious because the computer network was used.
He said people who don't fully understand the Internet may wrongly use the arrest as a reason to call for censorship.
"People wouldn't say we should go out and turn off all the telephones just because someone uses one to commit a crime", Dallmeier said. "The same standard should be used for the internet."
But Farber said the case will be followed internationally and the outcome will have an impact on future discussions about what rules need to be enforced on the information highway.
"This will be a catalyst for the discussion over hate material on the Internet", he said.
There is no shortage of activity on the Internet that skirts the boundary of the law, but the threats and illegal literature the flow over the phone lines are difficult to trace and almost impossible to prosecute, police say.
Sgt. Norm Tchir of the city's hate crimes unit said people sending hate messages on the Internet usually cover their tracks by remaining anonymous, or are located in a jurisdiction where what they are doing is not against the law.
"What might be illegal in Canada is legal in the point of origin so it's difficult to prosecute", Tchir said. "But in this case we didn't have to worry about jurisdiction."
It's not the first time Inbred Jed has come to the attention of police. In the fall of 1995 the youth had his computer confiscated and was charged with fraud, theft, and counterfeiting after a police investigation into the activities of the Anarchy Underground bulletin board system. (The charges have yet to be dealt with in court.) The BBS was being operated by Inbred Jed, and offered plans to build bombs and advice on carrying out crimes.
Meanwhile, Zoldy said his original reaction to the threats against his life was a desire to sit down with the youth and discuss the matter. But after the arrest police advised against it.
It is not the first time Winnipeg police have led the way in fighting computer crime. In 1994, investigators shut several local bulletin boards and where able to obtain the first conviction in Canada for distributing computer pornography.