LAW

Truth and consequences

NORA UNDERWOOD February 1 1988
LAW

Truth and consequences

NORA UNDERWOOD February 1 1988

Truth and consequences

The man outfitted in the bulletproof vest and trademark blue hard hat was a familiar sight as he walked through a small crowd of placard-waving supporters and vocal opponents into a downtown Toronto district courthouse. Once again Ernst Zundel, the 48-year-old graphic artist, was being tried in connection with his pamphlet that denied the existence of the Holocaust—the massacre of six million Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War. Outside the courthouse last week, some of Zundel’s supporters, wearing yellow hard hats, carried signs that read “Every survivor is living proof that there was no holocaust.” Inside, lawyers for both sides argued about the admissibility of certain evidence—an issue that must be resolved before a jury is selected.

West German-born Zundel is no stranger to either the courts or the media. In 1985, after a highly publicized seven-week trial, the Ontario Supreme Court found Zundel guilty of spreading false news in his pamphlet Did Six Million Really Die? after a charge was laid by human rights activist Sabina Citron. However, in January, 1987, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the decision, ruling that exhibits intended to show that Zundel honestly arrived at his conclusions should have been admitted as evidence and that Zundel had not been allowed to challenge potential jurors. But despite the jury’s verdict, Zundel claimed that the trial had given him the equivalent of $80 million worth of free—and welcome-publicity. Indeed, the intense media coverage of the case left the Jewish community divided in its opinion about the effectiveness of bringing Zundel’s views into the open.

Spokesmen for the community say that the rift was the result of concern that the publicity would give credence to Zundel’s beliefs. But Citron, a member of the Canadian Holocaust Remembrance Association and a survivor of the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, told Maclean's, “I have no feeling that if you expose this kind of poison, people will accept it.” According to Manuel Prutschi, national director of community relations for the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Criminal Code provisions that make it illegal to wilfully disseminate false information constitute an important instrument against hatemongers. Declared Prutschi: “You simply cannot have an individual vilifying a commu-

nity and getting away with it with impunity. People like Zundel have to be put out of business.”

Still, that may only happen after a lengthy and difficult trial. Indeed, Zundel’s lawyer, Douglas Christie, who represented Eckville, Alta., teacher James Keegstra before his conviction on charges of promoting hatred against Jews, seems to be anticipating that turn of events. Last week Christie

requested a delay until September for the preliminary hearing of another client, Imre Finta, who is charged with committing war crimes. For his part, Zundel—who could face deportation if convicted again—has claimed that he is better prepared for this trial. But despite his apparent complacency, both Citron and Prutschi say that they remain convinced both trials will increase understanding of the Holocaust—and can only sway public opinion closer to the truth.

-NORA UNDERWOOD