A Canadian company that hosted Web pages for groups with connections to white extremists has pulled the plug on its service, while federal hate-crime investigators attempt to build a case against the owner.
Fairview Technology Center Ltd., a British Columbia firm that is reportedly connected to right-wing extremists in Europe and Canada, said it dropped its Internet business because of a telephone company terms-of-service stipulation that could make it liable for Web content.
Fairview's owner, Bernard Klatt, told Reuters that he was not bowing to pressure from human rights activists, but rather was concerned about the financial impact of the contract required by BC Telecom, the regional telecom provider that supplies Fairview with Internet access.
Spurred in part by complaints that the Oliver, B.C.-based company has violated Canada's anti-hate propaganda criminal laws, authorities have been investigating the company and struggling with the issue of regulating hate propaganda online.
Canada has a variety of federal statutes that address hate propaganda, including sections of the federal Criminal Code, and parts of the Canadian Human Rights Act. When hate material is disseminated by either telephone or "a telcommunications undertaking" -- a definition that includes the Internet -- complaints are usually handled by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Donna Balkan of the Commission said that while there is a case under active investigation involving hate propaganda and the Internet, centering around holocaust revisionist Ernst Zundel, the commission has not yet received a formal complaint about Klatt's activities.
On 17 April, the B.C. Ministry of the Attorney General released a statement saying that BC Tel had turned over its information on Fairview to the ministry's hate crime team and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who already have an active investigation of the Fairview site underway. The case is complicated by jurisdiction, however, as nearly all of the material on the Fairview site is located beyond Canada's borders.
Klatt could not be reached to clarify whether the material in question was physically stored on servers outside Canada or whether he was mirroring it locally.
"I received a commitment from the [Canadian] federal government to take the matter to the American government in Washington, D.C.", said B.C. Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh in the statment.
Balkan said that criminal hate crime investigations are very rare in Canada.
"The criminal code provisions are not used very often", Balkan said. "They are difficult to enforce, and there is a much higher burden of proof. Because of that, there is often a reluctance to prosecute", she said.
BC Tel stopped short of terminating Klatt's access -- a move requested by human rights activists -- saying it did not want to be in the legal position of regulating Internet content. Klatt has defended himself, saying he's protecting free speech and has no control over his clients' Web sites.
Among the most controversial of the Fairview-hosted Web sites was that of a French Neo-Nazi group, the Charlemagne Hammer Skinheads, which allegedly contained death threats against Jews and European human rights activists.