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Ernst Zundel goes free: Defending the indefensible

As this day slowly slips away, I wonder if I should write this post at all.
It’s March 1st. 2010. This morning, German authorities released Holocaust denier and Nazi apologist Ernst Zundel from jail.
I know Zundel all too well.
Back in the last century, I spent five or six years as an investigative reporter for the Toronto Sun, specializing in the rise and fall of Zundel, his sorry skinhead shocktroops, and the motley crew that coagulated under the Heritage Front banner waved by Zundel’s protegé, the late Wolfgang Droege.
Nearly a decade later, in a post 9-11 America, someone called in some favours and Zundel was dragged out of a bucolic retirement in the Tennesse hills and shipped back to Canada – he’d never straightened out his US residency.
Tough luck for him.
But Zundel, a German by birth, had never received Canadian citizenship either and was wanted by the Germans for his Holocaust-denying activities, so he was arrested at the border.
As I said, tough luck for the odious little man.
But then Canadian officials, rather than deal with his laughable refugee claim, chose instead to invoke national security in order to have him swiftly deported, my hackles rose.
It was an astounding abuse of security legislation and a deeply cynical and cowardly political act – come on down, Denis Coderre!
My employers at the Hamilton Spectator showed extraordinary spunk, and allowed me to write a column … defending Ernst Zundel. Ran it off of the front page, if I remember right. I reproduce it below.
This piece won me no friends, at least none I’d want to apply that name to. And lost me quite a few.
No matter.
It also had no effect: Zundel was swiftly deported and thrown into prison in Germany.
Iin the seven years since I wrote my defence of Zundel, the Canadian Supreme Court has struck down the security certificate used to deport Zundel, ruling it unconstitutional. Nearly all of the men imprisoned using this tool (mostly for alleged links to Al Qaeda-like groups)  have been released.
None of which helped Zundel, who served out every day of his sentence.
Until this morning.
I’d like to forget him. But I think we shouldn’t.
His ‘prosecution’ under the security certificate rules was an abuse of power, a cowardly act. A crime committed in our name, you and I.
I guess it’s just important to stand up and ask – who is the biggest threat? Who do we need protection from?


And here’s that column

Hamilton, Ontario, Wednesday, May 14, 2003

What should we do with an aging Nazi apologist?

Our government has seized and branded Ernst Zündel, stripped him of his human rights, tried him in secret and found him wanting, and will now hand him over to a foreign government anxious to throw him in jail for the crime of speaking the horrible lies that roil in his twisted mind.
None, save the sorry band of self-deluded haters and malcontents who make up Canada’s dysfunctional white racist "movement," has stood up for Ernst Zündel. None have decried the shameful abuse of power, the cynical political calculation that is this government’s decision to label Ernst Zündel a "threat to Canada’s security". This is wrong.
Today I stand up for this Nazi apologist. Today I stand with the haters, the anti-semites, the racists, the cruel and ignorant who are Ernst Zündel’s natural constituency and his only friends.
Today I ask, who is the real threat to our freedoms, our ideals, our security: this aging hater, this semi-retired painter with his crumbling and ineffectual network of the deluded; or a cynical and mighty government that chooses to wield an immense, nearly extra-judicial power in secret, and to use it to crush a man few seem willing to defend?
As an investigative reporter I spent six years in the early 1990s monitoring and exposing the rapid rise and inevitable fall of Canada’s white racist movement, an ugly, cyclical blooming that brought them to membership levels and influence they’d not seen in Canada since the mid-1930s.
Zündel and the burgeoning propaganda machine that was his three-storey downtown Toronto headquarters was one of a few key hubs the movement revolved around. I got to know Zündel personally and professionally. And while I never had access to the fruits of the phone and fax and e-mail taps the government employed, I did learn much about his work through open questioning, careful observation and, at different times, the reports of a number of informants who worked inside his bunker and would pass along what they’d seen and heard.
The international scope and depth of his network of supporters who gladly consumed his e-mails, faxes, newsletters, videos, satellite TV shows and radio shows was astonishing, but not dissimilar to the network of supporters developed by the evangelical Christian ministers whose techniques he studied with the rapt attention a six-year-old boy bestows on professional athletes.
He had an impressive amount of energy and he earned impressive amounts of alms from his supporters. But anyone who got close to him understood that despite the occasional sacrifices and gestures of monetary and moral support for others of his ilk, Ernst Zündel cared about one thing — Ernst Zündel. It’s what kept him from building a real movement, from exercising real power when it appeared he might have it.
But for all his power, and the power and numbers of the other Canadian white racists, for all the fear they struck into the hearts of the righteous, the white racist movement in this country accomplished little more than hobbling the Reform Party’s rise and sparking pathetic street battles in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.
At every turn they were bugged, monitored and infiltrated by a host of well-funded and mostly honourable police and intelligence agencies. On every street corner they were out-hustled, out-organized and overwhelmed by their political polar opposites — the anti-fascists, a fanatical but poverty-stricken coalition of street kids, high school students, anarchists and communists. For their part, mainstream anti-racists and human rights groups ensured Zündel, and the Heritage Front and their ilk, enjoyed no rest from legal challenges, charges and harassments. It worked.
As a political force, this so-called movement has been essentially spent for nearly eight years.
Doubtless the haters will regroup, rise in some fashion and be crushed once more. Ultimately hate does not run deeply enough in Canadian society to nourish their shallow roots.
Throughout it all Zündel — who did this country a favour by wiping off the books our disgraceful False News laws — has never once been convicted of a criminal offence in this country, never once found to have violated the hate crime laws that rest snugly around the throat of free expression in this country.
His supporters say it is because he is an honourable man, a law-abiding man.
I look at his life and his lies and say the absence of criminal acts to support his supposed political principles is evidence of shrewdness or cowardice. But we could say the same about many of us. Many.
Still, in 1995, the government reached for the rarely used security certificate provisions of our immigration laws to brand him a threat to national security and deny him citizenship.
After exhausting his appeals and seeing clearly the Canadian government’s intention to deport him from his home of 40 years, Zündel fled Canada for the arms of his love-sick American web-mistress. It matters not if he was motivated by love, or her American citizenship.
They set up house in rural Tennessee, he slid into semi-retirement and prepared to open his own art gallery. His influence, reach and power has been waning for years.
But for some reason he bungled the slam-dunk of his American citizenship application and was arrested by the FBI and immigration authorities, who swiftly deported him to Canada where he made his absurd and insulting claim for refugee status. It was a bogus claim that would not survive for very long in a system that’s dealt with much better frauds than he. But our government had no stomach for allowing that process to come to its inevitable conclusion, and promised to remove him swiftly.
"Just watch me," said Immigration Minister Denis Coderre in hollow echo of Pierre Trudeau’s 1970 pledge to crush the terrorist cells of the FLQ (Front de Liberation du Quebec). Calculating correctly that there was no political cost, no "down side" to slipping on the jackboots to kick a reviled old man out of our country, our government cobbled together their best insults and innuendo, and Lord knows what secret "evidence", and branded Ernst Zündel a threat to national security.
I know this man, his local and international contacts and I know this movement. And after reading the 58 page "unclassified" summary of the government’s case, I can assure you there is no justice here.
Their "evidence" is riddled with errors and misinformation, hearsay and inflammatory innuendo. Dead men walk again, and the shattered bits of shoddy secret networks long since collapsed under the weight of their own ineptitude are made whole and menacing once again. It is a shameful piece of dishonest, unreliable tripe.
So today I stand with my enemies, people who loathe me as much as I pity them, and I say we are governed by cowards. Freedom is much, much stronger than Ernst Zündel. But it may be no match for our complacency.

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