Holocaust denier Jim Keegstra, the first Canadian convicted under Canada’s hate propaganda laws, was an “unrepentant anti-Semite” whose prosecution helped reveal a dark side of Canadian society, Jewish leaders said after his death became public last week.
The former Eckville, Alta., high school teacher, who made international headlines in 1983 when it came to light he was teaching his students that the Holocaust was a hoax promoted by Jews, died June 2 at age of 80. The Red Deer Advocate reported the news on June 12.
B’nai Brith Canada’s national legal counsel, Marvin Kurz, who worked on the case under Mark Sandler, the Ontario legal counsel for the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada, said Keegstra was the first “nationally known” Holocaust denier.
Len Rudner, director of community relations and outreach at the the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said that “for more than a decade, Keegstra used his position as teacher to poison the minds of his students, teaching them that Jews were treacherous, subversive, and even child-killers.
“He taught his students that Jews were inherently evil and that they created the Holocaust in order to gain sympathy – and expected them to reflect these views in their classroom assignments,” Rudner told The CJN in a statement.
Bernie Farber, former CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress, CIJA’s predecessor, said Keegstra was “an unrepentant anti-Semite… who held a mirror to the consciousness of Canadians. He did us a favour by exposing a pretty ugly underbelly of Canada while concomitantly helping to solidify the fence of protection for vulnerable minorities, Canada’s anti-hate laws. It was the Keegstra case that ended up before the Supreme Court of Canada, and in the end the decision to validate our anti-hate laws as constitutional.”
In 1984, Keegstra was fired from teaching and charged with “wilfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group” under the Criminal Code of Canada.
Represented by Doug Christie, an attorney who would go on to defend many of Canada’s other high-profile Holocaust deniers and neo-Nazis, Keegstra was convicted and given a fine of $5,000, which was later reduced to $3,000.
Following a number of appeals and trials that lasted seven years and eventually brought the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, Keegstra received a one-year suspended sentence, one year of probation, and community service.
Kurz said that in the years since his conviction, Canadian society has come a long way in combating anti-Semitism.
“The kinds of things that Keegstra said are no longer, in Canada, said in polite company. You would no longer admit to this kind of thing, and there are very few people who do,” Kurz said.
“His generation of anti-Semites and neo-Nazis are dying out and it highlights the movement toward a different kind of anti-Semitism that is more aimed at Israel and tying Jews to Israel’s alleged criminality.”
Rudner added that, “it is fitting that [Keegstra’s] name will be remembered not for the noxious beliefs he espoused, but for the verification, from our highest court, that truly hateful speech is unworthy of our protection,” Rudner said.