TORONTO (CP) -- Every day, spies are prowling the Internet.
Their mission: to track down hate-spewing Canadian Web sites. Their methods are furtive, anonymity crucial.
"We are systematically plowing the Net", says Sol Littman, Canadian representative for the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.
"If it involves a Canadian (Internet service) provider, we jump on it right away."
Last week, one of his "spies" uncovered a treasure trove of hate-mongering material on a Web site in Sudbury, Ont. The Northern Information Exchange offered a frightening glimpse of the pernicious mixture of bigotry and violence.
The detailed site contained a handbook for terrorists, a recipe for the biological weapon anthrax, militia information, links to other hate sites, a hand-grenade reference guide, and a blueprint for a "high energy, high voltage device capable of producing potentially severe electrical shocks and burns to a living organism."
The site was shut down promptly after Littman contacted the Sudbury-based service provider, Vianet.
There would be at least 100 Canadian Web sites operating without the centre's intervention, says the spy who uncovered the one in Sudbury. Now there are about six, she says.
Canadian law states you can't promote hate against identifiable groups. But hate-busting on the Net, often touted as the last aegis of free speech, is tricky. Offending sites can pop up and disappear lightning fast, and shutting them down for good is never guaranteed.
"Canada's hate laws are very badly drafted with respect to the Internet", says Littman. "It's very difficult to prosecute cases under them."
Littman works with the Canadian Association of Internet Providers to root out offensive material.
"Most of the providers are very co-operative with us when we approach them. We try a combination of gentle persuasion and a call for legal action to get these people out of business."
Lorien Gable, vice-president of operations at Toronto-based Interlog says it's not the provider's job to police client's Web sites.
"We have 50,000 customers and we don't monitor them", he says.
"If a special interest group contacts us to complain about a site, 90 per cent of the time it's not our issue and we'll tell them to go to the police or government authorities", Gable says.
"If it's illegal and an authority contacts us, we'll take it down."
But there are exceptions, Gable says, such as if a Web site generated bad publicity that started having an adverse effect on Interlog's business.
"Then we reserve the right to (take that site down)."
Still, any racist Canadian can take cover behind U.S. free-speech rights and find a home on a variety of American sites. But Littman is optimistic an airtight version of Canada's laws will one day be a global standard.
"The Internet has certainly given the hate movement a second life. You can sit in the anonymity of your basement with a cheap computer and reach millions of people simultaneously."