JUSTICE REPORTER -- Behind every genocide and pogrom in history lies a trail of racially intolerant screeds that helped distort the way a minority group was perceived, a human-rights tribunal hearing was told yesterday.
"The road to Auschwitz was paved with hate propaganda, Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," Marvin Kurz, a lawyer for B'nai Brith Canada, said on the final day of a hearing into alleged hate material posted on an Internet message board operated by defendant Marc Lemire.
Mr. Lemire and his supporters have asked tribunal commissioner Athansios Hadjis to strike down Section 13 of the Human Rights Act, which permits a complainant to launch a human-rights proceeding against anyone alleged to have promoted contempt or hate toward an identifiable group.
They claim that the section infringes the Charter right to free speech, chilling open debate and leaving individuals vulnerable to harsh punishment simply for participating in heated discussion.
However, Mr. Kurz said yesterday that Section 13 is a vital weapon in the Internet age, when minorities can be mocked, belittled and threatened instantaneously with a single keystroke.
"It isn't a matter of scaremongering to say that the Holocaust wasn't a unique event in history," Mr. Kurz said. "Allowing the spread of hate is what permits the next level to occur. Society needs to deal with it in a civil context first, so that it doesn't get to a criminal context."
Steven Skurka, a lawyer for the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies and the Canadian Jewish Congress, rejected the idea yesterday that Section 13 stifles honest debate: "Only the most virulent and poisoned kind of expression" gets caught by the section, he said.
"We support the right to offend and the right to be offensive," Mr. Skurka said. He said Section 13 comes into play only after healthy debate has been manipulated into the active promotion of hatred toward a vulnerable group.
Paul Fromm, an intervenor who supports Mr. Lemire, told Mr. Hadjis that virtually all of those targeted in Section 13 complaints have been modestly educated, "lower-class" individuals who tended to phrase objections to immigrants or particular groups in crude, hyperbolic "bar talk."
"Not everyone can speak like an Osgoode Hall-educated lawyer, with nuances and exceptions, and so on," he said.
He also denounced a CHRC lawyer for saying this week that racial jokes ought to be fair game for Section 13 complaints: "My response is that to condemn jokes is going pretty far down the road to the old Soviet Union."
Mr. Fromm also criticized the fact that 100 per cent of the Section 13 complaints referred to tribunals by the Canadian Human Rights Commission have been successful. "A 100-per-cent success rate?" he said. "That doesn't happen this side of North Korea."
However, Mr. Kurz said that Mr. Fromm's "scurrilous attack on the tribunals' integrity" was misplaced. Rather, the CHRC success rate shows that it targets only material that contains "incredibly awful" elements of hatred, he said.
Mr. Kurz also argued that the commission dismissed a recent complaint by Muslim groups against Maclean's magazine columnist Mark Steyn not because it had been cowed by a public and media backlash, but because it was without merit.
Mr. Hadjis has reserved his decision.