What’s behind the Trudeau government proposal to criminalize “Holocaust denial”?

Prime Minister Trudeau at the opening of the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa 2015.

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?

Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel was deported from Canada in 2005. He died in 2017 in Germany

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.

Want to learn more about us? Go to http://www.ottawaforumip.org


  1. If Trudeau, with his blind support of Israel, really wants to help reduce antisemitism in Canada, he should criticize Israel and reject some of the pressure and lies coming from the Zionist lobby groups in Canada.
    Just one example as to why antisemitism is slightly (not as Zionists exaggerate).on the rise, he should realize that the killing of the Palestinian journalist, no doubt added many thousands of people here and elsewhere with either increase of ill feeling toward Israel and Jews in general or created new ones.

  2. The headline should be “Noted antisemite, Peter Larson, says Holocaust Denial Bill is just an Islamophobic attempt to shutdown criticism of Israel. No one claims that Larson is not batshit crazy. Many think he is just an antisemite asshole.

    1. Hello Mr. Sigman, As you know, I normally just delete your comments when they are mostly ad hominem arguments. Anti semitism is a serious issue. I think it should be treated seriously. But this time your comment was just too delicious not to share with my readership.

      1. Well Peter thanks for the comic relief (;^) !!! As you know, If you are not regularly called an “antisemite” then you are not advocating enough for Palestinian Human Rights as zionists see those Rights as antisemtic attacks to destroy #APARTHEID #israel.

        Keep on your great work of provinding Canadians with unbiased information on the ethno-centric bordering racist, and in some cases like CIJA, B’Nai Brith, LeHava really racist, zionist project. At least it is comforting to know they tho DO NOT represent Jews as proven by Rabbi Brent Rosen’s Tzedek Chicago Syngogue recently formally moving from non-zionist to ANTI-zionist.

      2. Mr.Sigmans comment was delicious and serious. For once someone is telling the truth about Peter Larson. As for Ernst Zundel, my mother spent years of her life working to get the Canadian government to acknowledge the hate that he spewed and to have him deported to Germany. Zundel had a true following and many people came out to support demonstrations he organized.. when Zundel arrived in Germany he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for denying the holocaust. How is that possible. It is illegal in Germany to deny the holocaust. It is punishable by prison. Why not Canada and why is Peter Larson,interested in Canada passing legislation to make it an offense to deny the holocaust. It is inconceivable to me that there is Jew in this country that would criticize the government for doing it. The only criticism I have heard of comes from Peter Larson, the anti Semite.

      3. Hi Sheldon,
        You may have misunderstood my post about Holocaust denial. I think the Holocaust was a massive well documented atrocity which nearly annihilated European Jewry. Although it took place 75 years ago, it should not be denied, diminished or forgotten. But neither should the memory of the Holocaust be used today to justify Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians or as a club to attack or intimidate those in Canada who are critical of Israel’s actions.

        On a separate point, this is the second time you have publicly accused me of antisemitism. It is a very serious accusation that should not be made without evidence. If you have any specific allegations against me, please bring them forward. If you don’t, please desist.

  3. I suspect that Irwin Cotler is a prominent – and well connected – voice behind this. He is very close to Trudeau. All this recalls the famous letter by R. Niemoler 80years ago: First they came for the communists, etc. Who will the Zionist lobby come for next?

    1. Hey Bessa, thank you.
      I think I am more optimistic than you are. At the moment the Zionists are focussing their attacks on a small number of activists. But as they broaden their attack (e.g. to folks like the United Church, or to Muslims in general), more and more people will get angry. I think it will be their downfall. McCarthyism caused a lot of casualties, but in the end, they attacked too many people and were rejected by the population and politicians. Cheer up!!

      1. True. Israel is digging itself into a deeper and deeper hole, and the radical Zionist organizations here are getting desperate. As you say, it will eventially backfire.

  4. Peter, Thanks for sharing Sigman’s tweet. It provided some levity on Election Day. We all know what crazy sounds like and it sounds like him. Thanks for all the hood work you are doing.

  5. The Israel lobby appears to share the same assessment as you, Peter. They’re already working the Senate to insert some amendments to the proposed legislation. Chief among these is using the word “distortion” instead of the proposed term “downplaying” the Holocaust.

    As you point out, Holocaust denial is very rare in Canada. And downplaying (making something appear less important than it really is) the Holocaust is readily understandable. But what is “Holocaust distortion”? Unsurprisingly, the Lobby’s definition of distortion, like their definition of anti-Semitism, references Israel and is sufficiently vague that it can be wielded as a club against almost any opponent.

    Whether the legislation can stand a constitutional test is unclear, but that’s not the point. With the law in place, intimidation and veiled threats of legal action will suffice to deplatform speakers and defund organizations.

  6. Hi Peter . I don’t know what Zionist organization Mr. Sigman represents but IMO it certainly seems like a sign of desperation to make such personal attacks and use offensive language.

  7. Thank you, Peter for your calm and reasoned responses to the unfounded charges of antisemitism, that are so obviously intended to shut down well-founded criticism of Israel.

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