TORONTO -- A Canadian Human Rights Tribunal began a hearing yesterday to decide whether Ernst Zundel is responsible for disseminating hate material on a Web site in California that bears his name and is available to Canadians.
The site, called the Zundelsite, contains information that is alleged to be discriminatory by two complainants -- Sabina Citron and Toronto's committee on community and race relations -- as well as by the Canadian Human Rights Commission. They say the site denies millions of Jews were killed by Nazis during the Second World War.
Commission lawyer Ian Binnie said witnesses will establish that the site denies millions of Jews were killed by Nazis during the Second World War.
Commission lawyer Ian Binnie said witnesses will establish that the site doesn't contain a cultured exchange of ideas but is hate propaganda under the guise of freedom of speech.
Mr. Zundel's lawyer, Doug Christie, argues that the Web site is actually run by a U.S. woman.
Outside the hearing, Mr. Christie said it is unusual for a government body to "try to limit speech in another country, whether it's one of our citizens or not. It's an indication of how far we've gone toward a police state."
The tribunal also will consider whether the Internet is a "telephonic communication" and can be regulated by Parliament.
A seldom-used section of the Canadian Human Rights Act has been the basis of past complaints against groups such as the Heritage Front and Ku Klux Klan, according to William Pentney, general counsel fo the human-rights commission. However, the Internet has not come under legislative scrutiny before in Canada, a wrinkle that Mr. Pentney dismisses as not being central to the case.
"There is a whole lot of hoopla associated with the Internet", he said in suport of the commission's position that computers use the same basic technology as telephones. Section 13(1) of the Act, under which the complaints are made, was intended to prevent hate messages from being transmitted by telephone-answering machines.
"It is true that the Canadian government cannot control the World Wide Web", he added. "But if you look at the [Zundel] Web site, most of the messages are directed at a Canadian audience. People tend to think of the Internet as a worldwide abstraction that the government wants to get its hands on."
The case has aroused considerable interest.
"It is inappropriate to accomplish by the back door what cannot be done through the front door", said David Jones, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton and president of Electronic Frontier Canada, a group committed to protecting free expression in cyberspace. "This section was enacted by Parliament to deal with telephone-answering machines carrying hateful messages."
However, to the parties represented at the hearing, technology is beside the point. "This has nothing to do with regulating the Internet", said Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress. "This has to do with a violation of the Canadian Human Rights Act."
The hearing continues this week.