TORONTO (CP) -- Ernst Zundel's lawyer argued yesterday the federal Human Rights Commission has no right to interfere with an Internet site linked to the Holocaust denier.
Doug Christie told a three-member tribunal that they have no jurisdiction over the Internet, a worldwide computer network with few content rules and no regulating body.
Christie is asking the tribunal to delay or stop the hearing, saying that while the commission has authority over the telephone system, the Internet is something else entirely.
"The Internet is not a telephone", he said. "It's not that these (computer) devices don't use a telephone -- of course they do -- but they don't use them telephonically. They use them electronically.
The commission is holding preliminary hearings into a complaint from the City of Toronto's race relations committee and Toronto resident Sabina Citron.
The complaint alleges that a Web site, bearing Zundel's name, was promoting hatred against Jews and denying that millions of Jews were killed by Nazis during the Second World War.
But Christie argued that the Web site, stored on a computer server in California, is actually run by an American woman and Zundel doesn't have control over its content.
"It is really preposterous that we are obliged to be here", he said.
The case is believed to be the first time the commission has investigated a complaint over alleged hate literature on the Internet.
Commission lawyer Ian Binnie accused Christie of stalling.
"All of Mr. Christie's arguments lead irrevocably to delay."
Karen Mock of B'nai Brith Canada accused Zundel of trying to hide behind a computerized smoke screen.
"Regardless what country the site is emanating from or being bounced from, the telephone wires are being used", she said. "Zundel is the one who's preparing this material in Canada and whether it comes from the United States or wherever, the site utilizes telephones."
Toronto Mayor Barbara Hall, who attended the first day of hearings, said she was shocked when she saw what was on the Internet site.
"The hate crimes unit of (Toronto) police ... are very concerned about the growth of these groups on the Internet", she said. "It's extremely alarming to see this stuff on the Net."
But Sandra Bernstein, of the Book and Periodical Council, said it's a mistake to clamp down on freedom of expression on the Internet because of a handful of extremists.
"We in no way endorse Mr. Zundel's stupid and abhorrent views ... But cases like this set a very dangerous precedent", she said. "I just don't think this is a particularly effective way of countering stupid ideas."
Before the hearing, Zundel and a handful of his supporters protested outside the downtonw courthouse, marching quietly with signs reading: No truth to 6 million story. Gigantic Jewish ripoff.
While a crowd of smokers on the courthouse steps looked on and anti-racist demonstrators heckled and shouted taunts, Zundel called the hearing "an attempt by the Zionist lobby to silence a political opponent."