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IN a spirit of fairness we print this article by Mr Abrams, who is criticised elsewhere, since it gives his own viewpoint. We have however omitted the author-photograph, in case it was considered improper to include it.

February 17, 1999


Taking it to the tribunal

The 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 speech.'



IN EARLY 1994, I picked up and read, as I usually did, a little broadsheet newspaper that was delivered weekly to my office.

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 Shore News.

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 writers.

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 Victoria.

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 activities.

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 conspiracy."

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, hollering:

"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 approach me.

"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 street.

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 1941."

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 thanks you."

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 advertising specialty business and makes his home in Victoria.
The above news item is reproduced without editing other than typographical
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