OTTAWA (Nov. 19)
Canada’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by Ernst Zundel against his conviction for propagating the “false news” that the Holocaust never occurred.
The country’s highest tribunal made clear, however, that the only issue it will consider is whether the provision in the Criminal Code against spreading false news violated Zundel’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.
The decision drew a mixed reaction in the Jewish community. David Satok, chairman of community relations for the Canadian Jewish Congress in Ontario, expressed disappointment.
He said, however, that he is confident the Supreme Court will find “there is no violation of the freedom of expression guarantee in a law which declares that the marketplace of ideas is not open to those of malicious intent like Zundel’s.”
But Frank Dimant, executive vice president of B’nai Brith Canada, thought the decision was momentous.
He said that by restricting the appeal to the narrow question of constitutional rights, the Supreme Court has affirmed the “judicial notice” taken by the judge in Zundel’s 1988 trial that the Holocaust is a historical fact.
“The Holocaust is not subject for debate,” Dimant said. “Survivors will no longer have to sit through the anguish of trying to have to prove that there was a Holocaust.”
Ian Kagedan, B’nai Brith Canada’s director of government relations, made the same point.
“While we obviously would have preferred no action at all, the most gratifying aspect is that the appeal was granted on only one ground, albeit an important one,” Kagedan said.
Zundel, an anti-Semitic polemicist, was tried in 1985 for circulating a pamphlet titled “Did Six Million Really Die?” which claimed the Holocaust was a hoax perpetrated by Jews to extract reparations from Germany.
He was convicted under the “false news” statute and sentenced to 15 months in prison.
But the Ontario Court of Appeals overturned the conviction on a technicality in 1987. Zundel was retried and convicted in 1988 and sentenced to nine months in jail.
(JTA correspondent Ben Kayfetz in Toronto contributed to this report.)