TORONTO (Jul. 12)
A former high school history teacher from the town of Eckville, Alberta, has been convicted for the second time of willfully promoting hatred against Jews.
Justice Arthur Lutz of the Court of Queen’s Bench in nearby Red Deer fined James Keegstra $3,000 (Canadian) after a jury of eight women and four men found him guilty of charges he had been convicted of seven years ago.
The verdict was the culmination of a four-month retrial in which 17 former students of Keegstra’s testified that from 1978 to 1982, he taught them that an evil worldwide Jewish conspiracy bent on destroying Christianity existed and that the Holocaust was a hoax.
Keegstra, a former mayor of Eckville who has worked as an auto mechanic since the local school board fired him in 1982, showed little emotion after being found guilty. But his wife, Lorraine, cried.
Jewish groups here hailed the conviction.
“Today’s verdict reflects the feelings of all Canadians that those who would sow bigotry and hatred are an unwelcome intrusion in Canadian society,” said Professor Irving Abella, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
B’nai Brith Canada spokesman Ian Kagedan concurred. “I think that it’s an important statement that the court made to all Canadians that hatemongering will not be tolerated.”
But this may not be the end of Keegstra’s legal odyssey. After the verdict was announced, Keegstra asked the judge how long he has to file an appeal and was told 30 days.
Following his original 70-day trial, which was a national cause celebre, Keegstra was convicted in July 1985 for “unlawfully and willingly promoting hatred against an identifiable group.”
He was fined $5,000 (Canadian) and later stripped of his teaching certificate.
FIRST CONVICTION OVERTURNED
That successful prosecution set a precedent under Canada’s anti-hate law. But in June 1988, the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned his conviction on grounds that the anti-hate law violates freedom of speech guarantees in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Alberta Attorney General James Horsman appealed that judgment to the Supreme Court of Canada. In a ruling issued Dec. 13, 1990, the Supreme Court reversed the Alberta Court of Appeal’s decision, terming the anti-hate legislation a reasonable limitation of free speech, which could be “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
The Supreme Court then directed the Alberta court to rule on two other appeal arguments.
One of these dealt with whether Keegstra’s right to a fair trial had been compromised in his original trial because his lawyer did not have adequate opportunity to challenge the impartiality of prospective jurors. The other was over the judge’s charge to the jury on the meaning of “willfulness.”
In the wake of this decision, the Alberta Court of Appeal quashed Keegstra’s conviction for a second time in March 1991. But Alberta’s new attorney general, Kenneth Rostad, ordered a new prosecution effort a month later, in a move ultimately backed by the Supreme Court.