Saturday, March 20, 1998

Canadian ultra-right gathering sparks controversy

by Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER (Reuters) -- Bernard Klatt contends that the Canadian ultra-right gathering he is hosting on Saturday in a remote British Columbia community near the U.S. border is to promote free speech.

Klatt's critics contend it is really about promoting hate and it is timed to coincide with the United Nations' International Day to Eliminate Racism.

Whatever the true description of the gathering set to take place in the small town of Oliver, east of Vancouver, law enforcement officials are taking an interest.

"We are certainly monitoring the matter and the event ... No one should believe they are beyond the reach of the law", said British Columbia's Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh.

Klatt has sparked international controversy as the Internet provider for more than a dozen groups promoting everything from white supremacy to anti-Semitism and independence for western Canada.

French police last month arrested 13 people connected with an allegedly racist web site that operated through the computers of Klatt's Oliver-based firm, Fairview Technology Centre Ltd.

The web site, under the banner of the Charlemagne Hammer Skinheads, allegedly contained death threats, including one against British playwright Julia Pascal, according to a report in Canada's Globe & Mail newspaper.

To counter what he sees as a coordinated attack by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the news media, Klatt is hosting a gathering with presentations by some of Canada's better known ultra-right activists.

Klatt has advertised the event through the Internet, but admits he does not know how many supporters will actually come to this rural community not far from the U.S. border about 280 kms (174.0 miles) east of Vancouver.

"I've been told that the negative publicity will scare most of the people away so maybe only 10 people will show. Others suggest that the publicity will attract people so maybe a 100 people will show", Klatt told Reuters.

Among the scheduled speakers is lawyer Doug Christie, who has represented Holocaust deniers in court, and Paul Fromm, a former Ontario teacher who wants only English-speaking, white Christians to be allowed to move to Canada.

The dispute has left Klatt's neighbors caught in the middle.

They were angry when a Simon Wiesenthal official called Oliver the "Hate Capital of Canada", and Oliver's mayor complained to a reporter Klatt's opponents are "as zealous" as the people they are angry at.

But town officials have also circulated a petition asking provincial authorities to take legal action against Internet sites that promote racism, are anti-Semitic, or deny the Holocaust happened.

Attorney General Dosanjh is clearly considering doing that. He said Internet providers have the same content responsibilities as print publishers, although he acknowledged it could be more difficult to make a case against a cyberspace defendant.

"It's harder to catch. It's harder to prove and pursue, but we will do that", Dosanjh said.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said they have not heard of any plans for counter-protests outside Oliver's community center, but an official said he would not be surprised if something happened.

"We plan to be on top of it", said Cpl. Walt Makepeace.

Klatt is not surprised by the media attention being given Saturday's gathering, calling it a reaction to peoples' use of the Internet -- which he described as the "peoples media."

"Perhaps that partially explains the near hysterical negative reaction from the large corporate and government-run media outlets when 'non-approved' ideas, opinions, and viewpoints are found on the Internet", Klatt told Reuters in an e-mail message.

Copyright © 1998 by Reuters Limited. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.