February 17, 1999
it to the tribunal
man who won his case against Holocaust
revisionist Doug Collins explains
why he went to the human rights tribunal
to puncture a twisted view of 'free
IN EARLY 1994, I picked up and read, as
I usually did, a little broadsheet
newspaper that was delivered weekly to my
The Daily Victorian was a quirky piece
of work, which, I found an enjoyable read.
But that changed when it began carrying
Doug Collins's columns, which also
ran in The North Shore News.
I felt that I had never encountered
such overtly virulent expression in a
mainstream British Columbia newspaper
before. It both appalled and upset me.
Though Holocaust denial appeared to be a
recurrent theme, Jews were by no means Mr.
Collins's only apparent targets;
immigrants, people of colour, gays and
women were also unfairly objectified in a
way that was hurtful.
The Daily Victorian's publishers
responded cavalierly to numerous
complaints. There were many letters of
complaint to the editor, but the columns
continued. Advertisers pulled out; city
council passed a resolution banning "hate
literature". The Daily Victorian
foundered, but I elected to research the
matter further by looking at The North
It was a long-standing commercial
success with well over 50,000 copies
distributed in North Vancouver twice each
week. The controversial Doug Collins was
"good" for business. Angry letters to the
editor did not stem his invective; indeed
they seemed to fuel more of it as Collins
repeatedly ridiculed letter and opinion
A number of complaints about the paper
had already been brought before the B.C.
Press Council with unsatisfactory results.
The press council is a new media-funded
organization that describes itself as
devoted to defending freedom of the press,
upholding the standards of the
journalistic profession and providing the
public with a non-judicial process to hear
and "adjudicate" complaints.
I felt that the most reasonable and
accessible venue for justice and remedy
was contained in the B. C. Human Rights
statutes. I filed my formal complaint in
the spring of 1994.
Four years later, a human rights
tribunal hearing was held in downtown
On opening day with my lawyers, I
entered the hotel, passing a score of
placard-carrying "free speech" supporters
led by Paul Fromm, a former
schoolteacher, dismissed because of his
continued racialist associations and
Fromm led the protesters into the
hearing where they settled with their
signs on to a row of chairs laid out along
the back wall. The picket signs berated
and lamented B.C.'s "thought crime" laws,
but one or two disparaged me personally as
a "foreign agent" of an "organized
Before proceedings began, lawyer
Douglas Christie (who was the
lawyer for Ernst Zündel) made
an appearance, offering words of
encouragement to Collins, Collins did not
remain to dispute my charges. He and his
lawyer promptly and pointedly took their
leave, although the hearing continued.
I had only a few supporters - Alan
Dutton and a research associate of the
Vancouver-based Canadian Anti-Racism
Research and Education Society, some trade
unionists and a handful of supporters from
the Victoria Jewish community.
Several times during the hearing,
Collins's supporters approached me. One
senior citizen charged at me,
"You should be ashamed!"
There was also the lady with the
too-bright smile who always sat near the
door and smiled oh-so-nicely every time
I'd enter or leave the hearing room. On
the last day, she mustered the nerve to
"Mr. Abrams, I'm Magrit Murray.
I could just hug you! know, I lost a good
part o my family in the 'so-called'
Holocaust as well ..."
The words "so-called Holocaust" were my
cue to walk away.
On the first Sunday after the hearing
concluded, my family and I had just
finished a leisurely pancake breakfast,
when the doorbell rang. It was the lady
with the too bright smile.
I was not inclined to invite her in.
She took it in stride, but begged me to
take a blue envelope she was waving before
she turned and walked back down the
I quickly slit open the envelope. There
were three items. A black-and-white family
photo, a handwritten note, and an undated,
photocopied letter that had been printed
in The Victoria Times Colonist.
Printed on the back of the photo was:
"All but two people in the photo perished
- I am sitting with my mother. (She went
into hiding and was saved.) Hamburg
The published letter was a note of-pain
and outrage written by a Holocaust
survivor who had survived the war in
France as a hidden, though horribly abused
child. Underlined was the sentence: "Every
time someone like Doug Collins denies the
Holocaust, with people congratulating him
and believing in him in the name of 'free
speech' it's like a second death."
The letter to me read in part "I am
Magrit Murray. .. [and I would like to
express gratitude and admiration for the
stand you have taken against Collins and
his ilk. I know a little about being out
there on the limb by yourself - the
stress, the fear the rage, the
disappointment with others who remain
silent!] thank you, Harry. My family
who was destroyed in Germany in 1943 also
I ran out the front door barefoot,
wearing just a pair of ratty navy
sweatpants. Magrit was nearly to the end
of the block. called her and waved my arms
signaling her to please come back.
Sitting comfortably with us h our
living room, Magrit explained her use of
the term "so called Holocaust."
As much as it put me off a the time,
she really meant no harm. She had called
it Shoah -the Hebrew word for
'Holocaust."Harry Abrams owns an
specialty business and makes
his home in Victoria.