Canadian group tests legality of Holocaust deniers Web site

TORONTO — The Canadian Human Rights Commission is holding hearings to determine whether it can prevent a leading Holocaust denier from spreading hate messages over the Internet.

A three-person tribunal of the commission heard four days of testimony last week in an effort to decide whether the California-based Web site of Ernst Zundel, an outspoken Holocaust denier who lives in Toronto, violates provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Section 13 of the act prohibits the dissemination of hate against an identifiable minority group via a telephonic device.

The act has been used about a dozen times to prevent racist groups from using telephone answering machines to spread their ideology.

The tribunal is not a criminal proceeding, but its decisions are legally binding. It has no power to impose a fine, but it can order Zundel not to post similar objectionable messages on the Internet if it finds him in violation of the act. If he fails to obey, he could be found in contempt of court.

Acting on complaints from a private citizen as well as from Toronto Mayor Barbara Hall, who heads a municipal committee on race relations, the Human Rights Commission is attempting to decide whether the Internet qualifies as telephonic equipment. If so, the court must also decide whether Zundel effectively retains editorial control over the material posted on the site, known as the Zundelsite.

The Zundelsite routinely appears near the top of lists generated when an Internet user searches for information on the Holocaust.

Although Zundel told the tribunal that the site is controlled by Ingrid Rimland of Carlsbad in Southern California, Zundel's estranged wife, Irene, testified that he controls the materials that are posted and that he has been sending Rimland $3,000 a month to cover the site's operating costs.

Both B'nai B'rith Canada and the Canadian Jewish Congress have been granted intervener status in the case, allowing them to present legal arguments.

Because it is the first quasi-judicial case in Canada involving hate messages on the Internet, Canadian Jewish Congress officials believe it will set a precedent.

"What we will have here is a map for legislators, the police and human rights commissioners to follow in the future," said Moishe Ronen, chair of the Canadian Jewish Congress' Ontario Region.

"This is a complex and groundbreaking case, delving into the new realm of the Internet, in effect an uncharted territory for the legal system," said Marvin Kurz, national legal counsel for the B'nai B'rith's League for Human Rights.

"However, there is no reason why Canadian law should not be applied to this new form of communication."

The hearing resumes Dec. 11.