Canadian Cyberfascism on Trial

In a case that might determine the future of free speech on the Internet in Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has ordered hearings to determine if publisher Ernst Zundel is guilty of spreading hatred against Jews in cyberspace.Zundel, a self-described "libertarian-conservative-National Socialist," runs a Toronto company called Samisdat, which the Canadian Jewish Congress identifies as one of the largest clearinghouses in the world for Nazi propaganda. Since 1993, Zundel has been posting information on an Internet Web page that claims the Holocaust was a hoax. Acting on two complaints, the CHRC decided Nov. 22, 1996, to refer Zundel's case to a Human Rights tribunal. The tribunal will determine if Zundel is in violation of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which makes it illegal to promote racism via the telephone. "This is the very first time Section 13 has been applied to the Internet in all of Canada," says CHRC spokeswoman Donna Balkan. Zundel's lawyers plan on challenging the legality of the commission's move in the Federal Court of Canada. They argue that the CHRC lacks the authority to regulate material on the Internet and that Section 13 does not apply to cyberspace. A CHRC spokesperson says Section 13 does apply in Zundel's case because Internet messages are transmitted via telephone lines.Zundel cannot be imprisoned by a Human Rights tribunal, though he can be fined and ordered to stop posting anti-Semitic material on the Internet. A ruling against Zundel is no guarantee that his site would disappear, however."There is a common sense (legal) jurisdiction aspect to this," says Professor David Jones of McMaster University and president of Electronic Frontier Canada. "This is a Web site that isn't based in Canada." Zundel's site is broadcast by Web Communications of Santa Cruz, California, and a decision against Zundel is unlikely to have much impact outside Canadian borders.Jones said the EFC, founded in 1994 to protect the rights of Canadian Internet users, repudiates Zundel's beliefs but fears a ruling against him will set a precedent for government control of cyberspace. Zundel, not surprisingly, also opposes Internet censorship and blamed the attempt to silence him on the "Holocaust Lobby," "sniveling liberals" and "Jews within the federal bureaucracy." He said he isn't afraid of having his controversial views challenged and that his site offers links to anti-racist Web pages.Although a date has not been set for Zundel's tribunal hearing, pending the outcome of his challenge in Federal Court, Zundel is confident his revisionist message will still get out even if he is ordered to close down his site.In 1996, after the German government tried to block access to Zundel's Web server, right-wing supporters and free-speech advocates alike downloaded Zundel's information to create "mirror sites" on their home pages. The same phenomenon appears to be happening again as the Canadian government considers taking action against Canada's most notorious Holocaust denier."As we speak," says Zundel, "three Zundel mirror sites are already operating in the United States if we get yanked (in Canada)."

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