by Dennis Bueckert
OTTAWA (CP) -- In an unprecedented move, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has ordered hearings into complaints that Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel is promoting hatred on the Internet.
Commission head Max Yalden said Friday he believes that the commission has jurisdiction to shut down Zundel's Web site, even though it's based at a Web server in California.
"The signal's being picked up here, and where it's originating doesn't make any difference", said Yalden in an interview.
Governments around the world have had little success so far in policing the Internet, a collection of computer networks with no ruling body.
Zundel's site contains material disputing facts of the Holocaust and detailing his numerous legal battles.
"In the United States what I do is legal and I believe what I do in Canada is legal", Zundel said from Toronto.
He said Yalden wants to treat his site as if it was a taped telephone message. But Zundel said his Web site is interactive and is linked with two Jewish sites and the Simon Weisenthal Centre, permitting dialogue about issues.
There is no technical way for Canadian Internet companies to block Zundel's site, said Margo Langford, vice-president of Istar Internet, and a board member of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers.
"One could hold an Internet company liable ultimately in a court case ... but they (the commission) would have to go outside the jurisdiction in Canada.
"It's not on our servers. Clearly you can't stop one computer from talking to another computer, one telephone caller from speaking to another caller, and that's what the Internet is."
But Yalden said the Canadian Human Rights Act gives the commission jurisdiction over telephonic communications and Internet messages are transmitted over telephone lines.
He said the commission's aim is "to stop (Zundel's) signal if we can. It's not all that easy, but that would be our intention, to stop him from doing that (posting material on the Web).
Jeff Shallit, a spokesman for Electronic Frontier Canada, a non-profit group that follows Internet issues, criticized the commission's move.
Shallit said he lost some of his family to the Nazis in the Second World War but he still opposes censorship.
"I think Holocaust deniers are scum. But that doesn't mean that I'm in favor of laws restricting their ability to speak."
Yalden said he is not trying to interfere with free speech.
"I don't think Zundel's engaged in free debate, I think he's engaged in trying to incite people against Jews."
The commission took its action after complaints by the Toronto Mayor's Committee on Community and Race Relations and by Toronto resident Sabina Citron.
Citron, founder of the Canadian Holocaust Remembrance Association, has initiated a series of legal actions against Zundel over the past 13 years.
The next step for the commission is to appoint an independent tribunal to investigate the matter.