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The Ottawa Sun
Friday, May 1, 1998

Stamping out Internet hate

by Rob Hall, rob@echelon.ca

A special interest group in Canada has been successful at shutting down a controversial Internet site.

B'nai Brith (BB) recently released a list of websites worldwide that contained what they considered to be hate literature. Only one site on the list was in Canada, based at Internet service provider (ISP) Fairview Technologies in British Columbia.

The BB started writing letters demanding the removal of the site. Fairview refused. So the BB went to the upstream ISP, in this case, BC Tel, the local telephone company in B.C. BC Tel was forced to spend a fair amount of money on legal advice evaluating the problem and concluded that there was nothing they could do as they were simply a common carrier. The information was not on their servers, but resided with one of their clients.

The BB then turned to the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) and demanded that they enforce a voluntary code of ethics and have the site removed, even though Fairview was not a member of CAIP. When this was also not successful, the BB turned to the media.

Last week, Bernard Klatt, the owner of Fairview got out of the business.

Sounds simple. Sounds like a job well done.

But there is more here. On July 16, 1996, I wrote an article about this very same site. At the time, Sol Littman, a representative from the Canadian Simon Weisenthal Centre, had written a letter to Klatt demanding its removal.

My article agreed that it crossed a line and probably should be removed. Klatt had his lawyers call me and threaten to sue me and the paper if I didn't print an apology. I refused, and no suit materialized. So this problem is not a new one, just an old one dredged up, that happened to get the attention of the media.

But was it a job well done? Before we pat ourselves on the back, let's look at what has happened. A site dedicated to hate literature is no longer on Canadian servers. Great at first glance. But now it will undoubtedly pop up on a server outside of Canada. And then what do we do?

Would it not have been better to deal with it in the criminal justice system here in Canada, rather than taking the simpler method of shouting and having it expunged?

I am proud to say that Canada has very tough hate laws, some of the best in the world. Should we not have prosecuted those responsible and thrown them in jail? They are now free to continue their tirade outside our grasp. And have we stopped Canadians from viewing any new pages that come up? No. The global nature of the Internet will facilitate viewing for all.

And don't let Klatt tell you he was simply an innocent ISP. He has been aware of this for over two years and actively supported it. But I am not for the strong arm tactics used to perform the task. The end does not always justify the means.

Sure, a repugnant site was temporarily removed from the Net, but it was not stamped out. Better to try the case here under our strict laws and make an example of them. Throw them in jail so it can't happen again. Don't just temporarily inco nvenience them.


Copyright © 1998 by The Ottawa Sun. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.