The Trudeau government slipped a little-noticed line item into the budget which, if passed this month, will have the effect of criminalizing the act of “denying, or diminishing the impact of the Holocaust”. What is behind the idea? Is there a upsurge in Holocaust denial recently, or is there another reason? Read more….
A proposed law to make Holocaust denial a criminal offense was slipped into Federal Budget on Febuary 9th, almost unnoticed. It would add the “communication of statements, other than in private conversation, that wilfully promote antisemitism by condoning, denying or downplaying the Holocaust” to section 319 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits inciting hatred “against an identifiable group.”
“Denying the Holocaust is a reliable predictor of radicalization and an indication that antisemitism is on the rise,” CIJA Chair Gail Adelson-Marcovitz claimed in a statement.
How big is the problem? Who denies the Holocaust?
A Google search of “holocaust denial in Canada” brings up many references to the proposed bill but only a few odd-ball examples of Holocaust denial itself. One reference is to Ernst Zundel who was deported from Canada 18 years ago. Another is one-time fringe Green Party candidate Monika Schaeffer who spent 6 months in jail for her bizarre views. Both were convicted on the basis of existing hate speech laws.
But a careful review of the websites, press releases and other statements of a dozen Arab/Muslim/Palestinian organizations shows no examples of holocaust denial or dismissal.
The same is true for another half dozen Canadian human rights organizations which have been critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, organizations like CJPME, Amnesty International Canada, Human Rights Watch Canada, or even religious organizations like the United Church of Canada. None shows any indication of either denying or diminishing the Holocaust even though they are frequently accused of “anti-semitism” as a result of their criticisms of Israel. On the contrary, most have made explicit their recognition of the horrors of the Holocaust.
So why the proposed law?
If Holocaust denial is not really a big problem in Canada, why has the Israel lobby has been pressing for a similar law for some time?
The real purpose of the bill appears to be a political one – to protect Israel by claiming that Canada is in the midst of a huge surge in anti-Semitism, including denial of the horrors of the Holocaust.
“The bill is not really so much about antisemitism but rather mostly about Israel. It’s about Canada’s desperate attempt to protect that country against the growing chorus of condemnation of its treatment of the Palestinians and demands to end the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and accompanying outrages.” argues Larry Haiven, emeritus professor at St. Mary’s University in Halifax.
Haiven is referring to four important international forums which have in the past year denounced Israel as an “apartheid” regime – B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, have all argued that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid. None of them denied (or diminished) the Holocaust.
What does criminalization of Holocaust denial have to do with defence of Israel?
Israel’s defenders would like Canadians to believe that most of the criticism of Israel today is motivated by anti-Semitism. It’s effectiveness as a tool depends on Canadians’ understandable sense of historical guilt over our country’s behaviour toward the Jews during the Holocaust.
“One way of appearing to expiate that guilt is the “virtue signalling” around current antisemitism“, continues professor Haiven. “Jewish pro-Israel organizations like the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, B’nai Brith and Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre (…) have made uncritical support of Israel part of the price of that expiation. Our common horror at the Holocaust is a convenient stick with which to beat support of Israel into us.“
Will the bill become law and if so what will be its impact?
Human rights groups are raising concerns over the bill. “I think it’s problematic to criminalize Holocaust denial,” said Cara Zwibel, lawyer at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “That’s not to say that that kind of expression is not harmful. But the truth is, we don’t criminalize lying for the most part.”
But it seems likely to go through as a line item in the budget unless sufficient pressure is brought that the government amends the budget to exclude this. The NDP has said it will vote for the budget, under the terms of its confidence and supply pact with the Liberals, which will mean the bill will pass through the Commons.
Whether it can stand a constitutional test is unclear. As CBC journalist Mark Gollom wrote: “Canada’s plan to criminalize Holocaust denial could be unconstitutional — and redundant.”
But to the Israel lobby, that is a secondary issue. Their objective is to convince Canadians that Holocaust denial – motivated by rampant anti-Semitism – is everywhere.
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.
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