The last time I saw Max French and Marc Lemire, they were in a Toronto courtroom some 20 years ago, trying their best to intimidate me. I was 19 years old and on the witness stand, testifying against Heritage Front leader Wolfgang Droege and two other neo-Nazis while two dozen of their supporters glared at me from the courthouse pews.
I was skinny, scared and living out of a ratty duffel bag. For the past year I had been on the run for my life, hiding all over Canada, surviving on the generosity of strangers who let me sleep on their sofas. But in my heart I knew that I helped to shut down the Heritage Front, and I was proud. Proud because I had spied on evil and sent bad men to prison. Because right triumphed over wrong.
But that was before July 12, when Toronto’s Richview public library decided to allow neo-Nazis to use its public space to memorialize controversial free-speech lawyer Barbara Kulaszka and, at $10 a ticket, to fundraise for their cause. That was before Heritage Front member Max French shared his views on CTV, before Paul Fromm gloated on CityNews, “I don’t know any neo-Nazis. I do know some National Socialists.”
After putting my life on the line as a teenager trying to shut down these hate groups, words can’t describe the sense of betrayal I felt, both from a city that is supposed to be my home and from a municipal library I always thought of as a safe space.
I was 11 years old when I immigrated to Canada from communist Romania. For an introverted, friendless kid like me, books were the magic stuff that made childhood bearable. No matter how terribly my parents fought, I could always count on the dusty isles of Toronto Public Library to provide a quiet, threadbare spot where I could sit cross-legged and let my imagination come alive. My local library was a safe space away from bullies who made fun of my accent, a place where I could seek refuge and heal the wounds of a broken home and lost homeland.
The neo-Nazi organization capitalized on my hopelessness and frustration. By 16, I was an errand girl for Ernst Zundel, brainwashed about the Holocaust and convinced that Jews were the reason for why everything was wrong in my life.
This would not have happened if lawyers like the late Doug Christie and Kulaszka didn’t enable criminals and anti-Semites to continue to recruit minors and vulnerable people, exposing them to vile hate propaganda. Thanks to his dedicated legal team, Zundel lavished in the comfort of his Toronto Carlton Street townhouse for more than 30 years, avoiding Germany’s strict anti-Holocaust denial laws. He produced anti-Jewish books like Did Six Million Really Die? and The Hitler We Loved and Why, which he disseminated all over the world, sheltered by a lawful system that allowed his hate to be disguised as “free speech,” until he was finally deported to Germany in 2005, and ultimately sentenced to five years in prison.
The lawyers who ultimately enabled hate-mongers to get around Canada’s legal system do not deserve publicly-funded spaces like the Toronto Public Library to be memorialized. Their legacy is inexorably rooted in Canada’s shameful history as a safe haven for war criminals, in the hateful doctrine of their clients. And in the end, their memories will forever be intertwined with those of the criminals they worked so hard to keep free.
Shame on Toronto Public Library, and shame on Toronto for betraying us like this.