A collection of Web sites promoting white supremacy and Holocaust revisionism have cast a spotlight on a British Columbia Internet service provider and prompted calls for stricter Canadian hate laws governing the Internet.
Bernard Klatt, who runs Fairview Technology Centre out of his rural home in Oliver, British Columbia, has been called Canada's largest purveyor of Internet hate literature. About a dozen of his neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and skinhead clients have used his server to publish material railing against immigration and "the homosexual agenda" while celebrating "Euro-Christianity" and Hitler's accomplishments.
Last Saturday, Klatt was planning to hold a "free-speech" seminar in his hometown featuring a who's who of Canada's far right. But at the last minute, town officials canceled his rental agreement for the community hall where the meeting was scheduled.
"We took action to protect the community from violence", said Oliver Mayor Linda Larson. "(Klatt) started advertising on an international level (via the Internet) and that attracted the extreme element from both sides of the issue."
So Klatt turned the occasion into an outdoor press conference, complete with about 100 protesters, accusing town officials of abridging free speech.
"The whole thing made an excellent point as to why we need an uncensored Internet", he later said in an interview. "If you can't hold a public meeting to discuss free speech, at least there's a possibility of getting information out over the Internet."
Klatt's case has drawn the interest of British Columbia Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh, who is calling on the Canadian federal government to draft tougher laws governing those who publish "hate propaganda" of the Internet.
"We're looking at making the federal law that applies to hate propaganda and hatred more enforceable", said Brent Thompson, media spokesman for Dosanjh, who is also British Columbia's minister responsible for multiculturalism, human rights, and immigration. "We need to look at the law, review it, and possibly amend it so that we can successfully prosecute these matters."
But the weekend's developments are only the latest in a long string of controversies surrounding Klatt.
The Charlemagne Hammer Skinheads, a group of British and French skinheads who used Klatt's server to publish a Web site mocking Jews and minorities, were recently charged with uttering threats and various other crimes.
After the site was traced to Klatt's server last year, the town of Oliver was dubbed "Hate Capital of Canada" by Sol Littman, the Canadian representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
"(Klatt's site) has the most out-and-out racist, fascist, anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying Web sites in Canada by a wide margin, and the material on it is the most hateful and despicable and dangerous of any I've seen", Littman said.
But even though government officials, Jewish groups, and some of Klatt's neighbors have been trying to shut him down for more than a year, Klatt says he and his clients are breaking no laws.
"The right to express your point of view exists in Canada even if a pressure group doesn't like it", he said. "Our court system should uphold the laws we have around speech. We shouldn't be subject to proxy censorship by the Wiesenthal Center or community groups."
For speech to be illegal according to Canadian law, it has to promote hatred against an identifiable group, advocate "genocide", or incite "hatred to such an extent that it will lead to a breach of the peace."
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Corporal Walt Makepeace, stationed in Oliver, said there is an investigation into the material posted on the Fairview site, but no charges have been laid.
Nor should there be, says David Jones, president of Electronic Frontier Canada, a national group defending freedom of expression and the right to privacy in cyberspace.
"People don't realize that it's legal to hate in Canada", he said. "It's unpleasant, but it's not a criminal act. (Klatt's) pages are offensive, but they're legal."
Not so, says Littman. "It's a clear breach of the law. If the same things were written and published on paper, the police would be on his doorstep the next day. We can't figure out why electronic publishing would be treated any differently."
Klatt is following in the much publicized footsteps of Ernst Zündel, a Toronto-based Holocaust denier who is also on the Canadian legal hotseat for publishing so-called hate literature on the Internet.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission is holding hearings to decide whether Zündelsite, a California-based site featuring Zündel's writings - violates Canada's hate laws. Unlike Zündel, Klatt concedes that some of the information on his Web server is objectionable. But he insists it isn't his job to censor.
"I don't see the news media accusing theater owners of having poor morals because of the kind of movies they show in their theaters, or cable company management being responsible for movies on television", he said in an interview after the weekend incidents. "I don't support the content in some of the sites. I just want to allow them to express their viewpoints."