A federal bill that would have criminalized the hate-motivated purchase or sale of some Holocaust-era artifacts within Canada died when the House of Commons adjourned for the summer.
Bill C-678 was introduced by York Centre Conservative MP Mark Adler in May. It sought to make it illegal to buy or sell “personal property that was owned by, or in the possession of, a victim or survivor of the Holocaust for the purpose of wilfully promoting hatred against any identifiable group.”
The private member’s bill aimed to amend section 319 of the Criminal Code, which deals with hate crimes. It envisioned punishment of a maximum two-year-prison term and forfeiture of the property.
“This is an issue that is very close to my heart and is certainly important to my constituents in the riding of York Centre,” Adler told the House on May 13.
On May 28, he told the House: "Items like yellow stars and striped concentration camp outfits have found their way to Internet sites for sale, rather than to museums where they truly belong." He added that "profiting from the Holocaust is wrong."
But the House adjourned June 19 for summer recess and Parliament was dissolved when Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the federal election, leaving C-678 and several other bills on the order paper. They included one on gender rights and another that would have stripped MPs and senators of their pensions if they were convicted of certain crimes.
Adler did not return calls and emails seeking comment and elaboration on how wilfully promoting hatred could be shown in such transactions or whether he would re-introduce the bill if re-elected and why the government introduced a bill whose timing meant it had virtually no hope of passing.
Hank Rosenbaum, co-president of the Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, said he did not know about the bill “at all.”
He said about 20 years ago, someone brought to Canada a chess set made of bread that had been used in a concentration camp. He believed it was sold to a museum. “But there was no anti-Semitism involved.”
Most recently, the issue of buying and selling Holocaust-era memorabilia came to the fore in 2013, when the British newspaper The Mail on Sunday named a Vancouver man and several other eBay retailers who were auctioning clothing and items that supposedly belonged to victims of Nazi concentration camps.
The man, identified as Viktor Kempf, wanted to sell a pair of trousers purportedly worn by a prisoner who died in Auschwitz. Kempf was quoted as saying he bought the clothing from a “reputable” dealer in the United States.
The Mail on Sunday article said eBay faced an “international storm of outrage after it was revealed to be profiting from the repulsive trade in Holocaust memorabilia,” including the striped uniforms of concentration camp victims.
Other sellers on eBay were offering shoes from a death camp victim, yellow Stars of David and wooden toothbrushes allegedly used in concentration camps.
The online auction and retailing site removed about two dozen items from its website. It issued an apology and made a donation to a charity.
More recently, following several U.S. retailers’ refusal to sell the Confederate flag symbol, eBay said it will allow materials with a Nazi reference or swastika if they are historical in nature, but not “those that amount to Nazi propaganda or are disrespectful to victims.”
Amazon also sells Nazi-era paraphernalia, including a tin memorabilia box emblazoned with a black swastika, and several SS daggers. Their provenance is not described.
In an attempted private transaction several years ago, two local Jewish organizations were approached by a Toronto man offering to sell a bar of soap he claimed was made from the fat of a Jewish death camp victim. The sales were declined, and it’s not known whether the seller’s claim was authentic. He denied making the offer.
In a 2010 incident that made headlines around the world, a Montreal collectibles shop tried to sell a bar of soap purportedly made from human fat during the Nazi era.
The item was sent to a laboratory near Toronto, which conducted tests for both human and animal DNA. The soap tested negative for both, and it was returned to the shop.
In an interview with Canadian Press at the time, shop owner Abraham Botines said he didn’t know whether the soap was actually made of human remains. Botines, who is Jewish, said he tried to sell the item to a Holocaust museum, which refused the offer. He was asking about $300.
Germany, Austria and France have laws governing the trade in Nazi memorabilia.