MONCTON, New Brunswick (Aug. 18)
In a dramatic turnaround last week, New Brunswick Attorney-General David Clark announced he would review his decision not to prosecute school teacher Malcolm Ross of Moncton for allegedly promoting hatred against Jews because a book by Ross that was said to be unavailable was found on local library shelves.
The previous week, Clark announced New Brunswick would not institute charges against Ross, based on the results of a 13-month police investigation.
Clark ruled that Ross could not be charged with wilfully promoting hatred against Jews under section 281.2 (2) of the Criminal Code because two of his books did not fall under the definition of hate literature, while the third, “Web of Deceit,” probably did, but was “unavailable to the public,” having been out of print for five years.
Only a few days after the announcement, several journalists in New Brunswick were able to get copies of Web of Deceit from local libraries, forcing red-faced justice officials to reconsider their decision.
The 106-page book, it seems, was easily available from libraries in Moncton, Fredericton, Saint John and the University of New Brunswick.
One journalist employed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) said it was “easy” to get the book, which was located in regular library stacks and not within reference material, making it available for general check-out.
BOOK’S POPULARITY HAS INCREASED
Dr. Mary Travis, regional librarian at Saint John Regional Library, said Web of Deceit’s popularity has increased in the past few months. In one library, she noted, the book had been checked out just five times in eight years and not at all since 1982. Now, however, “you can rest assured” the book has become popular. Travis added there are no plans to pull the book from the shelves.
Clark was unavailable for comment on the several days his office was contacted. A department official had no comment on the matter.
Dr. Julius Israeli, who filed the original complaint against Ross last summer, was exuberant at the decision to reconsider. “It’s a gift from heaven,” he said. “I feel great.” Israeli had not heard officially from the justice department, but he said he’s aware the sudden turn around doesn’t necessarily mean Ross will be charged. “It could take several more weeks” of investigation, Israeli said, and the same decision could be arrived at again.
Clark told a New Brunswick newspaper immediately after his ruling that his first decision, not to prosecute, was “the most difficult” he has had to make as Justice Minister and Attorney-General. He said the long term solution to problems of this nature lies in public awareness and education and not in the criminal justice system.
RATIONALE FOR STOCKING THE BOOK
Although Web of Deceit, written in 1978, is widely available in New Brunswick, it is not stored in the Metro Toronto Library, Canada’s largest municipal library. But the book is available to almost anyone via an inter-library loan from the National Library of Canada, according to spokesperson Ruth Lawless.
She said in an interview that Canadian law requires every publisher in the country, regardless of repute, to forward one or two copies of every book published to the national library in Ottawa, Canada’s flagship collection of books.
Lawless said Web of Deceit is classified under three headings: civilization, modern 20th century and Canada/civilization. She said Ross’ book is stocked because the library doesn’t make “value judgements” on books’ contents.
In addition to authoring the books, Ross runs the Stronghold Publishing Co., which prints and distributes them. He teaches all subjects in grades 7,8 and 9 at a school outside Moncton, but an investigation by The Canadian Jewish News last year found no evidence he taught his views in the classroom.
REACTION BY JEWISH OFFICIALS
Jewish community officials were surprised at Clark’s decision to reconsider. Shimon Fogel, executive director of the Atlantic Jewish Council, said the move shows Clark is “taking this seriously and is consistent with his conscientiousness. But I’d be somewhat surprised if he decided to lay charges just on the merit of it (Web of Deceit) having been found in the library.”
Prof. Bernie Vigod, regional chairman of B’nai B’rith Canada’s League for Human Rights, said there is a “tremendous risk” of Ross being acquitted if a charge is instituted, “That would set back the course of things quite a bit.”