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Panellists debate how Canadians should deal with Holocaust deniers

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From left, Josh Basseches, CEO of the Royal Ontario Museum, Warren Kinsella, Dara Solomon, executive director of the Sara and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, Gerda Frieberg, Bernie Farber and Bill Dunphy. JODIE SHUPAC PHOTO

“Hell just got a little more crowded,” author, lawyer and political consultant Warren Kinsella declared during a panel discussion on confronting Holocaust denial on Nov. 6.

Kinsella was referring to the death earlier this year of the infamous Holocaust denier, Ernst Zundel, who lived in Canada from 1958 to 2000 and founded a publishing house that issued neo-Nazi pamphlets with titles like, Did Six Million Really Die? The Truth At Last.

The talk, which was part of the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre’s Holocaust Education Week programming, was held at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

The panel was moderated by Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and a leading challenger of Holocaust denial in Canada.

Kinsella and fellow panelist Bill Dunphy, a former investigative journalist who wrote for Toronto Sun, among other publications, appeared to agree that Zundel was utterly despicable, but the two diverged on the matter of how society should contend with hate mongers of his ilk.

Dunphy – who covered Zundel’s proceedings before the Canadian Human Rights Commission in the 1990s, as well as his acquittal by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1992 – believes the law should be “the last and most desperate resort” taken against those who propagate Holocaust denial and other hateful views. To do so is to endanger the free speech rights that Canadians enjoy, he maintained.

READ: HAVE SOME JEWISH GROUPS GONE TOO FAR BY TRYING TO SILENCE THEIR OPPONENTS?

“Free speech is one of the foundational rights that protect all of us – but especially minorities – from tyranny,” he said.

Kinsella, whose 1994 book Web of Hate: Inside Canada’s Far Right Network is considered a seminal work on white supremacy in Canada, argued that the tactic of ignoring Zundel and his kind is dangerous.

“He wouldn’t and he didn’t go away,” Kinsella stressed, “and his foul legacy is still felt in this city and this country today.”

He showed the audience photocopied pages from the Toronto-area publication Your Ward News, which is known for publishing vitriolic content that attacks Jews, Muslims, women and other minority groups.

Kinsella and his wife have launched a private prosecution against the paper’s publisher and editor.

Pointing out pro-Hitler images in the publication, Kinsella said that, “This isn’t from Zundel’s presses. It’s happening right now … and the Toronto Police Service has done nothing about it.”

Ernst Zundel, second from right, and his supporters taunt protesters outside his Toronto home. ONTARIO JEWISH ARCHIVES/BLANKENSTEIN FAMILY HERITAGE CENTRE

Dunphy, who said he spent years “immersing (him)self deeply in the racist right … earning their trust by being honest and direct,” argued that groups of this sort are fueled by media attention. The latter, he minced no words in saying, are generally “idiots” when it comes to reporting on the workings of white supremacists.

Pretending to be one of them is futile, he claimed, as the moment one reveals oneself to be a journalist, the story is “done and dead.” Anyways, Dunphy said, such groups are “always deeply infiltrated by the state.”

He stressed that rather than take legal action against Holocaust deniers, the Jewish community should make common cause with fellow minority groups.

“Defend their freedoms,” he told the audience. “Open up your personal networks to the oppressed people of Canada and hate will never find any fertile soil.”

Kinsella countered Dunphy’s arguments by citing the case of Timothy McVeigh, the American terrorist behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

“People said he couldn’t possibly be a threat. Well, he was,” he said. “Words matter. They mattered to McVeigh. All you need is one fanatic.”

The third panelist, Polish Holocaust survivor Gerda Frieberg, is the former chair of the Ontario region at the CJC and the founder of the Holocaust Survivors of Canada and Women for Soviet Jewry. She didn’t weigh in on the argument in question, but recounted being liberated from the Oberalstadt concentration camp in Germany, as well as her commitment, upon coming to Canada in the 1950s, to opposing Holocaust denial and advocating for human rights.

Frieberg, who lost 172 family members in the Shoah, drove home the personal impact caused by hate mongers like Zundel. “Can anyone imagine the pain he inflicted on survivors after losing their entire families?” she asked.