The sign at the entrance to the town boasts, WELCOME TO ECKVILLE-A GOOD COMMUNITY TO LIVE IN. But the recent publicity surrounding the anti-Semitic teachings of Eckville Mayor Jim Keegstra—a high school social studies teacher for 14 years before being fired last December—have made the small Alberta farming community a footnote in the history of racism in Canada.
Last week the embarrassment continued when town Councillor George Schmidt failed in his bid to remove Keegstra as mayor. Said Schmidt after the 4 to 2 vote in favor of Keegstra: “He cannot continue to ramble on and on about his views and still continue to represent this town.” Despite the setback, however, other Albertans—including Premier Peter Lougheed—are finally speaking out against racism.
One local woman, Margaret Andrew, has raised with parents the idea of sending Keegstra’s students to Dachau to learn the truth about Nazi extermination of the Jews. “I believe those hammerheads are entitled to their opinion,” said Downey. “But when they start poisoning the minds of young kids, they’re going too far.” Earlier this month, in what many commentators considered a belated acknowledgment, Lougheed condemned Keegstra’s “clearly racial and religiously prejudiced and anti-Semitic” views. However, he did nothing to formally discipline Stephen Stiles, a back-bench Tory MLA who also claimed there was no evidence to support the Holocaust.
The furore began when Keegstra appealed his dismissal as an Eckville
teacher after 14 years. During the April hearing, evidence, including children’s notebooks, showed that Keegstra had tutored his social studies classes in the widely discredited international Jewish conspiracy theory. He also taught that the Nazi Holocaust of the Second World War, during which six million Jews were murdered, never occurred. Although Keegstra maintained that he was merely teaching certain prevalent theories, his dismissal was upheld.
For his part, Keegstra charges that agitators are out to “smear” him and the town. “Somewhere along the line I would like to have an open forum where somebody proved me wrong,” he says. But longtime Eckville resident Hilary McDonald, 48, whose son and daughter were taught by Keegstra, asked: “Have you ever been to Germany, Jim? Did you ever go to Dachau? Did you ever go to Belsen? Did you ever go to Auschwitz?”
In fact, Keegstra may visit the sites soon. Last week he told Maclean's that he would visit Germany if someone paid his way. And Sigmund Sherwood, a Fort Macleod hotel owner and former prisoner No. 88 at Auschwitz, offered Keegstra airfare, spending money and an introduction to a friend who would act as guide. “There are at least 10 different places he has to see,” said Sherwood. “He has to see the camps and the museums where there are piles of children’s shoes and piles of hair clipped before the people were exterminated.” Concluded Sherwood: “Anyone with intelligence who goes through there and then claims there was no Holocaust will probably also say the Earth is flat.”
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