May 25, 2022
OTTAWA – Recommendations on how to improve Canada’s proposed law on the criminalization of Holocaust denial have been made by B’nai Brith Canada.
We provided testimony last week to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Sam Goldstein, B’nai Brith’s Director of Legal Affairs, was invited by the Committee to suggest ways to strengthen the framework of the Government’s proposed Amendment to Bill C-19.
While B’nai Brith respects and promotes the freedom of speech and is highly sensitive to limitations on it, Goldstein said it was an unfortunate necessity to add an Amendment to the Criminal Code on Holocaust distortion and denial specifically.
“Antisemitism may take many forms, but as this legislation recognizes, Holocaust denial and distortion remain go-to staples for antisemites,” Goldstein said. “We are grateful for the Committee’s invitation to address it on new Holocaust denial legislation, particularly in light of a poll showing fewer than half of Canadians knew of the annihilation of much of European Jewry during WWII.”
To prevent impinging on basic freedom of speech rights, Goldstein recommended to the Committee that it ought to allow discretion to the prosecuting attorney in terms of how to apply charges under the proposed Bill. He also advised using the greatest precision in drafting the Amendment’s wording. He suggested using the word “distortion” since it is more precise and detailed than the previously proposed “downplaying” (…the Holocaust) and is more likely to safeguard freedom of expression.
Goldstein also suggested removing the ability for anyone to use the “defence of truth” against charges of Holocaust denial since, as illustrated in the Ernst Zundel case, it can be used to repeatedly litigate whether the Holocaust happened, or that it even happened at all. Since the facts around the Holocaust are well-established and well-documented and in Zundel’s retrial the court took judicial notice that the Holocaust existed, allowing a ‘defence of truth’ would represent a step backwards.
The Bill C-19 Amendment, coming in the wake of a rise of antisemitism, hate speech and Holocaust denial in Canada, would add a new criminal offence for the denial, downplaying or distortion of the Holocaust.
More than 25 European countries have laws that address Holocaust denial. Some are connected to efforts to combat neo-Nazism, while others relate closer to hate speech regulations.