The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Zündel Affair

Manuel Prutschi


On November 18, 1983, Mrs. Sabina Citron of the Canadian Holocaust Remembrance Association went before a justice of the peace to swear out charges against Ernst Zündel under the "false news" section of Canada's Criminal Code.[1] This section makes it a crime to produce and disseminate wilfully material which is false, known to be false, and damaging to a public interest. The action began as a private complaint; however, the Crown took the case over in January 1984.

By the time of the preliminary hearing in June, the indictment involved two separate charges: (1) the publication of a four-page letter entitled "The West, War and Islam" advancing the notion of a conspiracy by Zionists, bankers, communists and Freemasons to control the world; (2) the publication of a 30-page pamphlet entitled "Did Six Million Really Die?" stigmatizing the Holocaust as a "colossal piece of fiction and the most successful of deceptions."[2] The Crown also specified the affected public interest as that of social and racial tolerance.

Ernst Zündel was already familiar to the Jewish community as a hatemonger. Moreover, government officials, both federal and provincial, had become aware of him and had explored various legal avenues long before criminal charges were actually laid. The Canadian Holocaust Remembrance Association had played a significant role in the imposition of an interim mail ban on November 13, 1981, a prohibitory order that was repealed almost a year later.[3]

Mrs. Citron's group, as well as other Jewish organizations, had also pressed the attorney general of Ontario, Roy McMurtry, to prosecute Zündel under Canada's 1970 anti-hate law, which makes it a crime to advocate genocide or wilfully to promote hatred against an identifiable group as defined by race, colour, ethnicity or religion.[4] McMurtry was sensitive to Jewish concerns, but hesitated in pressing charges because he feared that some of the provisions in the Criminal Code might allow Zündel to escape with an acquittal.

Mrs. Citron, impatient with the lack of action, decided to lay a private charge under the "false news" section, which did not require the consent of the attorney general. Although he had the power to stay this charge, McMurtry chose instead to take control of the case. To have stayed the charge would have been tantamount to granting Zündel a second triumph, after his initial victory in the postal-ban hearing. A private prosecution would have been highly unusual in Canada and would have shown a less than forceful attitude toward the merchants of hate. Furthermore, there were "reasonable grounds" for proceeding, and these were sufficient.

Mrs. Citron, in effect, had forced the hand of the attorney general. A Holocaust survivor herself, she regarded individuals such as Zündel as responsible for her own personal tragedy. Almost certainly, the object of her attention understood why she was bound by past obligations to "slay the Nazi dragon on Carlton Street."[5] Zündel was far from perturbed at the legal action initiated against him. He had expected it and, indeed, eagerly anticipated it. In fast, it is possible that he printed the Holocaust denial pamphlet "Did Six Million Really Die?" as a deliberate toss of the gauntlet. He promised to fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court.[6]



Work Cited

Prutschi, Manuel. "The Zundel Affair," in Davies, Alan, Ed. Antisemitism in Canada: History & Interpretation. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1992, pp. 249-277. Courtesy Canadian Jewish Congress.

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