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Canadian High Court Strikes Down Law Banning Revisionist Material

August 28, 1992
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Canada’s highest court has struck down as unconstitutional a law banning the wilful spread of “false news,” marking a victory for Holocaust revisionist Ernst Zundel.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously Thursday that the law violates constitutional guarantees of free speech set forth by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Zundel then used his victory appearance in a national television interview to reiterate his claim that the Holocaust was a hoax.

He said he would continue to publish and speak as he had done in the past.

As he spoke, Jewish groups registered their dismay and called for his prosecution under another hate law.

Zundel, a German immigrant, was originally convicted in 1985 of publishing a pamphlet claiming that the Holocaust was a hoax. The 1985 trial made headlines worldwide as it effectively put the Holocaust on trial.

At the time, Zundel assailed the “false news” law as “an instrument of thought control.”

But in 1987, Ontario’s Court of Appeal upheld the provision, ruling that spreading “false news” was not the sort of expression that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms meant to protect.

Zundel was retried in 1988 due to a ruling that the first trial judge had made legal errors. He was found guilty, sentenced to nine months in jail and denounced as a “fraud” by the judge.

In 1990, the Ontario court once again dismissed Zundel’s appeal. But in a rare move last November, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear his constitutional challenge to Section 181 of the Criminal Code dealing with the spreading of false news.


In Thursday’s decision, the high court found that the wording of Section 181, outlawing “false news which is against the public security and likely to harm a recognizable group,” is too vague.

Canadian Jewish groups were clearly disappointed with the ruling, but tried to put the best face on it.

“While we regret the Supreme Court’s decision, we feel that another effective remedy for Zundel’s hatemongering is already on the books,” said Marvin Kurz, Ontario regional chairman of B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights.

“What is needed now is for the government of Ontario to show its commitment to eradicating bigotry by charging Zundel for inciting hatred against Jews,” said Kurtz.

Also critical of the court ruling was the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Sol Littman, director of Canadian Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said, “While we appreciate the court’s concern with the issue of free speech, we believe that the court failed to realize the full extent of the social harm done by unrestrained expressions of racial hatred.”

The authorities will have to look closely at Zundel’s future activities and charge him promptly under the Hate Propaganda Law, Littman said.

He was referring to Section 319 of the Criminal Code, which forbids the wilful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group.

That law was upheld by the high court in the case against James Keegstra, the former high school teacher in Eckville, Alberta, who taught that Jews are evil.

A positive note on Thursday’s decision was sounded by Gerda Frieberg, a Holocaust survivor who is Ontario regional chairman of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

“The seven years of battling Zundel in the courts was fully worth it,” she said. “As a result, Zundel has become a synonym for despicable, malicious falsehood and group libel.”

David Satok, chairman of the CJC’s Ontario Region Community Relations Committee, said the Supreme Court’s ruling “in no way changes the finding by two separate juries that Ernst Zundel, in purveying Holocaust denial, is guilty of deliberately propagating falsehoods which were injurious to the public interest.”

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