B’nai Brith Canada says that a leading civil rights group erred in its call for the government to help a Canadian who’s on trial for Holocaust denial in Germany.
In a July 16 letter, the Ontario Civil Liberties Association (OCLA) called on Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to the come to the aid of Monika Schaefer, a “political prisoner” who’s being held in a Munich jail.
Schaefer, 59, and her brother, Alfred, 63, both Canadian citizens, are being tried together. They face six counts of “incitement to hatred,” for producing and posting a video in which Monika Schaefer denies the Holocaust.
Monika Schaefer, a musician and activist from Jasper, Alta., has been in custody since January. She was reportedly visiting family in Munich and was arrested at the trial of another Holocaust denier.
In its letter, signed by executive director Joseph Hickey, the OCLA called on the ministers “to do everything you can” to save Schaefer from her “unjust and immoral imprisonment in Germany.”
But B’nai Brith has called out the OCLA on several points.
For one, the civil rights group said in its letter that the offending video was made by Monika Schaefer “in Canada, about Canada and published from Canada.”
In fact, the video “was produced at Alfred Schaefer’s home in Germany and first uploaded by him,” B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn told The CJN.
Anne Wild, a freelance photographer who is monitoring the Schaefers’ trial for The CJN and a local anti-fascist group, said that the court was told that the video was produced by Alfred Schaefer in the town of Tutzing, outside Munich.
Wild said that on July 13, Monika Schaefer read a statement in German, confirming that it was her speaking in the video and that she knew it would be published online.
The OCLA said it is concerned about Canada’s “apparent unwillingness” to help a “Canadian political prisoner in Germany.” It asked Ottawa to appoint a consular observer at her trial and to make “direct contact” with Schaefer.
Consular services are being provided “to the Canadian citizen who has been detained in Munich, Germany,” Global Affairs spokesperson Elizabeth Reid told The CJN in an email.
But it’s Ottawa’s “long-standing” policy not to comment on any cases that are under judicial review. “To protect the privacy of the individual concerned, further details on this case cannot be released,” Reid said.
In addition, the OCLA said Monika Schaefer is charged under a German criminal law that is “categorically contrary to international law.”
B’nai Brith called that claim “absurd.”
“Many countries, including Canada, impose criminal penalties for speech that crosses the line into incitement or hatemongering,” Mostyn said.
The OCLA is also incorrect to characterize the trial as solely about Holocaust denial, he said. “In fact, both Schaefers have repeatedly preached hatred and threatened violence against Jews, and this is also part of the litigation.”
Mostyn said he was “puzzled” that the OCLA would involve itself in this case. “It is unclear why it would jump to defend a neo-Nazi who has no connection whatsoever to Ontario.”
It is unclear why it would jump to defend a neo-Nazi who has no connection whatsoever to Ontario.
– Michael Mostyn
Born to German immigrant parents, Monika Schaefer gained notoriety in July 2016, after appearing in a five-minute YouTube video, titled Sorry, Mom, I was wrong about the Holocaust, in which she said the Holocaust was the “biggest and most pernicious and persistent lie in all of history.”
According to Wild, Monika Schaefer told the court, in German, that, “I’m convinced that the Holocaust is a great untruth of history.” She said she made the video to make peace with her mother and that she wrote the script.
Asked about the consequences she faced in Canada, Schaefer said she had been threatened, subjected to “ritual defamation” and lost friends and jobs, according to Wild.
Monika Schaefer ran as a federal Green party candidate three times in Alberta, but was kicked out of the party after her video on the Holocaust appeared.
On July 18, the judge denied an appeal from Alfred Schaefer to be released from jail, Wild added.
The siblings’ trial resumes Aug. 16. If convicted, they face up to five years imprisonment on each count of incitement. Alfred Schaefer faces additional penalties for giving the Nazi straight-arm salute in court.
Hickey did not respond to The CJN’s requests to discuss B’nai Brith’s statements.
Germany has “clear laws against Holocaust denial and other forms of anti-Semitism, something that (Monika) Schaefer should have kept in mind before entering the country,” said Avi Benlolo, CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, in a statement.
“Allowing the spread of such hate-motivated messages opens the door for others to do the same, so the justice system in Germany is right in handling this case in a serious manner.”