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"I was fighting Hitler when that lousebag [the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal complainant Harry Abrams] was in diapers."

-Columnist Doug Collins

BC Report, February 22, 1999

Temporarily silenced

by Derek DeCloet


Why the hate speech conviction of Doug Collins will likely be overturned in court


LIKE MANY British Columbians, Roger McConchie does not care for Doug Collins' opinions on Jews. "I think it's just nonsenseto question the historical evidence," says the Vancouver lawyer, a reference to the controversial journalist's claim that many fewer than six million Jews died in Nazi death camps. But he also believes Mr. Collins has a right to publish his views, however distasteful.

That is why, in one respect, Mr. McConchie is glad the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal found Mr. Collins and the North Shore News guilty of exposing Jews to contempt. Section 7 of the B.C. Human Rights Code passed by the NDP government, forbids publication of anything "likely to expose a person or a group or class of persons to harred or contempt." Now that someone has been convicted under section 7, it may finally be tested in a real court. Mr. McConchie believes the law will be struck down because it violates Charter guarantees of freedom of expression.

"There is a gold mine of material [in the Collins decision] for someone who wanted to bring a full-scale attack against this kind of regulation of the news miedia," says Mr. Mr. McConchie, legal advisor to the B.C. Press Council. "You probably couldn't find a clearer of inappropriate intervention in expression by one of these tribunals."

The complaint was brought forward by Harry Abrams, a Jewish businessman from Victoria. It was based on four columns published in 1994. In the columns Mr. Collins describes the six million figure as "inflated" and "nonsense," accuses Jewish groups such as the Canadian Jewish Congress and B'nai Brith of intimidating their detractors into silence, calls the Holocaust "not only the longest lasting but also most effective propaganda exercise ever," and mocks Steven Spielberg's Academy Award-winnging film Schindler's List as "Swindler's List." (The latter was the subject of a human rights tribunal in 1997, which found the column anti-Semitic but not in violation of the code.)

Tribunal member Tom Patch, who heard the Abrams complaint, found that individually, none of the columns violated Section 7.

"However, collectively they do," he wrote. "They repeatedly reinforce some of the most virulent forms of anti-Semitism. They convey the message that Jews, individually and collectively, are selfish, greedy and manipulative; that they have conspired to control government institutions and the media; and that they use that control to to perpetuate inflated figures concerning the victimization of Jews during the Holocaust and to persecute anyone who speaks out against them."

Mr. Patch ordered Mr. Collins and the News to pay $2,000 in compensation to Mr. Abrams for hurt feelings. He also ordered the News to stop publishing material "contemptuous" of the Jewish people, and to print a summary of the tribunal decision. At press time, the News had not yet decided whether it will appeal, but it did print the summary.

However, Mr. Patch found little proof the columns caused anything more than hurt feelings. There is "sparse evidence" the columns affected the Jewish community, he wrote, adding that Mr. Collins' work is subtle, and "does not overtly incite hateful and contemptuous expressions." (It would be a criminal offence if Mr. Collins had incited readers to set fires to synagogues, for example.) That will make it difficult for government lawyers to defend Section 7 as a "justifiable" restriction on free speech, Mr. McConchie argues.

Furthermore, Mr. McConchie believes Mr. Patch made at least three serious legal errors.

  • First, courts never consider the "collective impact" of articles written in different editions of a newspaper in defamation cases, says Mr. McConchie. "You know why? Because when I read today's newspaper, I don't go back and look at a stack of columns written by the same writer two months ago and three months before that," he says.
  • Second, the tribunal accepted the opinion of linguistics professor Barbara Harris that Mr. Collins portrayed Jews as "powerful, vindictive and hypocritical." But a real court would never allow expert testimony on the meaning of an article, says Mr. McConchie. "That's not objective evidence -- that's her personal opinion based on her training," he says. Instead, judges ask themselves what meaning an ordinary person would give to the words.
  • Third, Mr. Patch had no right to force the News to publish a summary of his decision, nor to order the paper not to publish anything similar again, says Mr. McConchie. The Supreme Court has consistently upheld a newspaper's right to publish what it wants. "[This order], in my view, violates at least three Supreme Court decisions," he concludes. "I defy you to find a provision in the Human Rights Code that gives the authority to make that order."


MR ABRAMS rejects the assertion that Mr. Collins' views are harmless. What makes them dangerous, he says, is that they were published in a credible community newspaper with a circulation of 62,000.

"This really was an attempt to take this kind of stuff mainstream,' says Mr. Abrams. "It should be suppressed in terms of being in the mainstream and in terms of being peddled as acceptable discourse."

Mr. Abrams argues that Mr. Collins' columns are "softening the ground" for a new Holocaust. "They want to complete the job Hitler didn't finish," he says. To support his assertion, Mr. Abrams faxed 36 pages of information to BC Report proving Mr. Collins' articles are often quoted or reprinted in newsletters and websites of white supremacists, such Ernst Zündel and the Heritage Front. "I believe his credentials as a neo-Nazi are impeccable," says Mr. Abrams. "Look where else this is being reprinted."

Mr. Collins responds that he cannot control who reprints his work. "Anybody can quote a column, I don't care who it is -- I'm not in a position to stop them," says the 78-year-old, now semi-retired. As for Mr. Abrams' neo-Nazi charge, he points to his military service in Europe with the British Army during the Second World War. He declares, "I was fighting Hitler when that lousebag was in diapers."

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