TORONTO (Mar. 4)
A landmark case on hate speech and the Internet is finally approaching conclusion after four years in the Canadian legal system. A tribunal of the Canadian Human Rights Commission heard final arguments late last month on whether Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel’s Web site violates anti-hate provisions of Canada’s Human Rights Act.
The tribunal is expected to announce its decision in about three months.
Sparked by complaints by a former Toronto mayor and a private citizen, the case has occupied the three-person tribunal for more than 53 days of hearings over four years.
Both the Canadian Jewish Congress and B’nai Brith Canada have been granted a status in the case that allows them to present legal arguments.
“It is a seminal case here in Canada because it will chart the course for the manner in which human rights law can be used to deal with Internet hate,” said Bernie Farber, executive director of the congress’ Ontario Region.
Zundel’s California-based Web site, the “Zundelsite,” often appears near the top in Internet searches on Holocaust-related subjects. Articles on the site include “The Big Lie,” “Hitler’s Policy Was Emigration, Not Extermination” and “There Is No Proof That the Holocaust Occurred.”
Section 13 of Canada’s Human Rights Act prohibits the dissemination of hatred or contempt against an identifiable group via a telephone device. The section has been used to prevent white supremacist and other racist groups from using answering machines to spread racist ideology.
Among the key issues are whether a modem qualifies as a telephone device and whether Internet hate messages should enjoy free speech protections.
Soon after it began, the tribunal was effectively sidelined for nearly two years after Zundel argued that one member was biased against him. The woman had been a commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 1988 when it issued a press release applauding Zundel’s criminal conviction for disseminating “false news.”
The Federal Court of Appeal ruled last May that the panel member was not biased and the tribunal could continue.
At one stage in the proceedings, Zundel claimed the Web site was controlled by Ingrid Rimland of Carlsbad, Cal., who is now Zundel’s third wife. However, a former wife, Irene Zundel, testified that Zundel had been controlling the site and sending Rimland $3,000 a month to cover costs.
The tribunal recently rejected Zundel’s request to drop the case because he no longer lives in Canada. The congress believes he now lives in Tennessee.
“The tribunal basically said, `You can’t, after four years of hearings, depart and expect the whole thing to fold up,'” said Karen Mock, national director of B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights, who characterized Zundel’s request as “a last-ditch stunt.”
Born in Germany, Zundel entered Canada as a permanent resident in 1958. His 1993 application for Canadian citizenship was denied, partly because the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration considers him a threat to national security.
Zundel appealed the rejection, but wrote to the immigration minister several months ago to withdraw his citizenship bid.
A former printer, Zundel was convicted in Toronto in 1985 of distributing hate literature, but the conviction was overturned on constitutional grounds. He has been barred from entering Germany due to his notoriety as a Holocaust denier.
Barbara Kulaszka, Zundel’s lawyer, informed the tribunal recently that her client had moved to the United States to be with Rimland.
“I believe he saw the writing on the wall, and I believe the Canadian Jewish Congress specifically hounded him too much — they were always on his back,” said the congress’ Farber. “He preferred to go to a country where he could ply his trade of Holocaust denial without facing court intervention.”
Even in Zundel’s absence, the case is expected to set a precedent regarding hate groups on the Internet.