Freedom's just another word
For saying 6-million didn't die. How did an extremist B.C. Columnist end up a martyr?
"Give me a break." Peter Speck is pacing briskly between a window and couch in his office at the North Shore News, self-described "Voice of North and West Vancouver since 1969." The paper that Speck launched and still runs is jettisoned three times a week onto 60,000 driveways and doorsteps stacked up the steep side of Burrard Inlet, and he's made a healthy profit almost from the start. Enough to see the fifty-eight-year-old publisher ensconced, a good part of each week, at his country retreat on North Pender Island, and enough to have caught the fancy of Southam, which bought up most of the shares in 1990 for more than $13-million, though they promised to keep their hands off the editorial and Speck was thankful for that. It's still very much his Voice, for better or worse. Right now, you could say it's for worse.
I'm sitting on the edge of the other couch, watching him pace, watching the bow tie vibrate every time he says give me a break. (We're at three, and counting.) "I've published Doug Collins for fifteen years," Speck says. "He has written 1,500 columns for us, and he's a fine man, a fine journalist, he's a pro, he's the recipient of a military medal, he served with distinction in the Second World War, he was captured by the Germans and he escaped ten times. Ten times!" Speck spins on his heels. I'm working hard to get all this down in my notepad seeing as he forbade me to use my tape recorder. He says he doesn't trust tape recorders, by which he means he doesn't trust me.
Not that I blame him. At the time of this interview we are midway through a five-week-long human-rights hearing into a complaint against the newspaper and its seventy-six-year-old star columnist, and it's been hell for Speck, and I've certainly done my bit to stoke the flames. I'm a columnist myself, with a weekly spot on the Vancouver Sun's op-ed page, and have been pretty hard on Collins and Speck over the last weeks. That's my job: to be hard on people I think deserve it, to trade in emotion, to wield facts as much as use them. I guess you could say Collins and I are alike, is what I offer Speck by way of conciliation – though I wasn't yet born when Collins earned his medal, and have no quarrel with multiculturalism or homosexuality or the accepted history of the Holocaust, and have never been hauled in front of a human-rights tribunal for speaking my mind. "No, not yet," says Speck, burning me with his eyes.
Of course there's also the fact that I'm what Collins would call a "racial comrade" of the complainants in this hearing, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC). Collins uses phrases like that in his column all the time. I know. I have read almost every word he's written for the last two and a half years, starting with a column published on the eve of the 1995 International Conference on AIDS which brought thousands of "sodomites" to Vancouver whom Collins could clearly have lived without, considering "they brought their troubles on themselves through filth piled on filth." My husband and I had moved our family over the Lion's Gate Bridge that very week. I had picked the paper up off my doorstep and, on reading Collins, was immediately seized with fear that we'd chosen the wrong suburb.
For a few weeks after that we tried to stop circulation to our house, but calls and letters to the editor had no effect. I suppose we might have intercepted the carrier, or tried what Peter Newman did when he lived up here a few years ago: send the paper back by courier, COD. But we didn't think of that, and so it kept coming and perversely I kept opening it to page seven to see how mad Collins would make me this time. I soon learned his code: you've got your sodomites, your leather-clad lesbians, your multicults, and your racial comrades. I have never in my life felt more like a racial comrade, which might explain why I jumped in with both feet when the human-rights tribunal got going last spring, setting a media attendance record and ranting regularly in the Sun about what I saw. It was just too rich.
The business of the tribunal was a March 9, 1994, column entitled "Hollywood Propaganda" in which Collins had written what his editor Timothy Renshaw later described to the tribunal as a movie review of Schindler's List, except that Collins hadn't seen the movie and he'd called it "Swindler's List." Renshaw, incidentally, doubles as restaurant critic at the News, and confessed to the tribunal that he wouldn't review a restaurant he hadn't eaten at. But Collins can pretty well do as he pleases in his semi-weekly spot because he is considered a pro: since moving from England in 1952 he's worked at the Calgary Herald, the Vancouver Province, the Vancouver Sun, CBC-TV public affairs, and a number of community newspapers, mostly in three-year stints; he is also considered very good for business-controversial, recognizable, his bulldog face perfect for giant mugs on the sides of buses with captions such as "Hard Lines," to quote a recent campaign.
The column in question is full of hard lines, the gist being that Spielberg's movie would sweep the upcoming Academy Awards – but not for the usual reasons. It would win thanks to "the Jewish influence" in Hollywood and the "Jewish-owned media" across North America, and because "what happened to the Jews during the Second World War is not only the longest lasting but also the most effective propaganda exercise ever." The goal of that exercise, he writes, is to bilk "billions of dollars" out of innocent Germans to compensate Israel and Holocaust survivors – "of whom there seem to be an endless number." The 6-million figure is "nonsense," according to Collins, who has said the same thing and more in other columns. He has written, for example: "I do not believe in the gas chamber stuff." He has frequently suggested that the death toll may be as low as a few hundred thousand.
Those are "reasonably held statements of material fact," according to Speck. He said so in a special "Freedom of Speech" fund-raising supplement published by the News in August. Renshaw agrees. Referring to the column in question, Renshaw told The Globe and Mail: "I think he makes some valid points. I wouldn't have approved the column if I thought it was over the top." Which has left more than a few readers to puzzle out the implication: are Speck and Renshaw publishing Collins in the interest of free speech – or because they agree with him? And would they go to the wall defending my constitutional rights to express views they consider unreasonably held? The Canadian Jewish Congress's Pacific region directors didn't waste time puzzling. They simply named both the columnist and his publisher in their complaint under Section 2 of the provincial Human Rights Act – a piece of law amended by the NDP government in 1993 to prohibit publication of material "that is likely to expose a person or a group or class of persons to hatred or contempt because of the race, color, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation..." you get the picture. And if you've read much of Collins you know he's targeted most of those groups at one time or another, with Specks tacit approval.
Speck doesn't buy this assessment at all. His newspaper, like all good newspapers, is a marketplace of ideas where offended readers are welcome to offend back, in the letters column, he says. Alternatively, they're welcome to turn the page on Collins-no-one is forced to read him. And when they do turn the page they'll find a good variety of community-service features written for and by people of every size, shape, and colour: "We print all viewpoints. We run lots of multicult features. We have multicult contributors. I have Iranian friends. I have Jewish friends," he tells me, still pacing. "We've been tarred with the brush of racism. It's very painful." But couldn't you have avoided the pain, I ask him, by editing some of the more offensive material out of Collins? "Do you want me to publish pap? Give me a break." There goes the bow tie. "The winds of political correctness are blowing, and it's a dangerous thing because there's a self-censorship going on in the mainstream press. A sort of Damocles' sword hanging over our heads. The Sun and the Province won't print [Collins] because he's too dangerous."
A David-and-Goliath theme runs through this story, but with a twist: both sides see themselves as David. David is the little publisher who, along with his bulldog columnist, is preyed upon by state censors and powerful special-interest groups – i.e., the Jews. But David is also the Jew, the Sikh, the gay or lesbian reader who is wounded by the columnist's pointed words, and by his publisher's refusal to soften them or apologize for them despite the newspaper's claim to be their voice. While it's true offended readers can turn the page, some of them are wondering why should I? And why shouldn't I fear repercussions when my impressionable neighbour doesn't turn the page? And yes, I can write to the editor – but there is no guarantee I'll be printed, and there's always the risk Collins will strike back. Master of ad hominem argument, Collins never seems to forget an insult or a name, and his editor does not stop him from fiercely attacking critics in his column. One West Van reader, Jack Chivo, got the full treatment after he wrote a letter challenging Collins's gas-chamber observations. "Chivo is a Jew from Romania and a Doug-hater," Collins noted, going on to wrap up the debate: "Hatred is a bad adviser, Chivo. And you would get more sleep if you went back to Romania." One thing is for sure: no reader will ever have his mug plastered on the side of a bus.
So who's bullying whom? Tough call, at least for those of us observing at close range. The Georgia Straight's annual "Best of Vancouver" issue noted the "Best excruciating dilemma for local journalists: Support Doug Collins or censorship?" Even the defence lawyers seemed to lose resolve at times, as witness this exchange between a journalist and one of Collins's lawyers during a break in the hearings. Asked by the reporter whether his intent was to try to show that the government framed this piece of legislation specifically to muzzle Collins, the lawyer answered: "No. I'm not trying to get to that, because, ha ha, that might justify the goddam legislation. Just kidding. Don't print that!"
Yet, from a safe distance (such as Toronto), it seemed rather easy to find the real David and root for him. Peter Worthington, writing in The Toronto Sun, had no problem: "The CJC is wrong to let its dislike (dare one call it 'hatred'?) of Collins and what it thinks he stands for, lead it into supporting anti-democratic legislation – over a movie review!" PEN Canada chimed in, being "convinced that government repression of speech, however hateful and disgusting the speech may be (and Holocaust denial, a species of thinly disguised racism, fits that description) is unacceptable in a free and democratic society." Ditto from the Writers' Union of Canada, who wrote directly to Premier Glen Clark to push for repeal of this "censorship" law. Former premier Bill Vander Zalm sent a cheque to the North Shore News's "Free Speech Defence Fund" as did the former mayor of Victoria, Peter Pollen, and hundreds of other citizens, from Europe and the Orient and just down my street – all of which was duly noted in the News.
The more mail and money that rolled in, the harder it was for the other David to be heard. Starting last March, the papers defence fund was loudly monitored in each issue, with a banner on page one, a contributions-to-date thermometer above the masthead, tributes to Collins from readers, and indignant editorials by Renshaw and senior editor Noel Wright. "On the North Shore, democratic principles matter," went the May 14 editorial, a few days after the hearings started. "News readers don't take kindly to having their thinking being done for them by someone else. They don't take kindly to having the government tell them what views are right and what views are wrong. They have said so to the tune of $70,000 thus far." By the hearing's close six weeks later, the fund was up to $101,000 – half of what Speck would need to cover legal bills. And his paper would need a lot more, he told his readers, if the ruling went against them and they were compelled to appeal it to the Supreme Court of Canada. "This newspaper won't rest until the NDP's bad bills are dead and buried."
This was no marketplace of ideas. It was war. And it quickly evolved into a war of ideas more than of words, which was inevitable considering that almost everyone involved – with the exception of Speck, Renshaw, Collins, and his most ardent fans – agreed that the actual words contained in that column were indefensible. Even David Sutherland, chief counsel for both the columnist and the newspaper, backed away from defending what Collins had said about the Jews, electing to focus instead on his constitutional right to say it. Indeed, the old Voltaire saw – "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" proved to be the rallying theme of the defence side, eloquently supported by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and by the B.C. Press Council, which represents all major daily and community newspapers in the province. Both organizations were granted "intervener" status in the hearings, allowing their lawyers to submit arguments on behalf of the defence. On the complainants side, there were four interveners: the Attorney General of B.C. and the B.C. Human Rights Commission, both of whom came to defend the human-rights legislation; and the B.C. Human Rights Coalition and Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver, who were there to fight racism. Chairing the tribunal was a diminutive, brown-skinned feminist law professor from the University of British Columbia named Nitya Iyer. Collins must have used all the restraint he could muster not to use code on her.
Most days there were eight to ten lawyers in the room, a few reporters, half a dozen-odd observers, and a couple of security men. Security was beefed up when Collins was called to the stand – the hearing moved premises that day, from a meeting room adjacent to the B.C. Police Commission offices in downtown Vancouver to a nearby hotel ballroom. A crowd was anticipated and it materialized, consisting largely of Collins fans eighty or so mostly grey-haired white people, a few bearing signs and handouts warning of democracy's imminent demise. They were not disappointed with the show. "This whole exercise is a farce," Collins half-shouted at one point, looking straight at his audience. "They could hang me up by the heels, and they wouldn't get an apology." His fans cheered, then Collins turned back to his cross-examiner, CJC lawyer Gregory Walsh, Q.C., and grinned thinly. Walsh was unmoved. After all, it was not his job to get Collins to apologize. Everyone in this town knows you could hang him by his heels, and shoot off a few toes, and still come up empty (Allan Fotheringham says Collins is the toughest man he's ever met). Walsh's job was to persuade the tribunal to grant a cease-and-desist order to protect readers from similar anti-Semitic columns in the future. To achieve this end, he and his co-counsel Gerry Cuttler had to prove that grievous harm had been done by this one.
On this particular day, Walsh was working on a line of questioning designed to catch Collins in his own trap – to get him to agree that words can cause harm, that harmful speech bears a price, and that even he has relied on the courts in the past to remedy harm done to himself by those who would falsely malign him. And Collins came through for Walsh, admitting that innocent Germans are harmed when Jewish filmmakers malign them, that he is harmed when someone maligns him, that he has no qualms taking legal action against such parties (as he has done to The Vancouver Sun and Reader's Digest), and that by doing so he contributes to a chill on freedom of the press – a chill he evidently deems necessary and even good when it is an individual, such as himself, who is defamed.
When a group of people is defamed well, that's a whole different story. There's no effective legal remedy for that, except here, in a human-rights hearing, where many people suddenly get squeamish about the possibility that the law will impinge on their freedom. Walsh and Cuttler spent a good deal of their time trying to show the hypocrisy of this, suggesting that fundamental freedoms are already limited by our courts and are only slightly more limited by human-rights legislation like British Columbia's – which is almost identical to human-rights codes used by most of the provinces and by the federal government, and by many of the 146 countries around the world that have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Significantly, the United States is not a signatory of this convention, nor any other that threatens to erode First Amendment rights, and those who defend hate laws often remark that their critics might be happier living there.
Canada is not only a signatory but an author of the granddaddy convention against hate: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the UN's postwar answer to what the organization regarded as the greatest violation of human rights in recorded history: the Holocaust. The spirit of the declaration was described by then UN secretary general Dag Hammarsskjold: "There is not now and never has been any such thing as unlimited liberty. Each man's freedom is limited by that of his neighbours."
"All the rights guaranteed by our charter reflect one common value, and that is the dignity and worth of the individual," argued Walsh in his closing submission. "In this case, Mr. Collins and the North Shore News say they are entitled to expose people to hatred and contempt because of their race or religion. They say they are entitled to do that regardless of the harm it causes. They say that in the name of free speech, the fundamental values in our free and democratic society permit them to pursue a commercial enterprise, for profit, without being responsible or accountable."
There are legal precedents in Canada for limiting speech rights in the interest of protecting individuals from discrimination that would interfere with their equality rights. The most notable was the 1990 Supreme Court of Canada case, Taylor versus the federal Human Rights Commission. An anti-Semitic telephone message service called Canadian Liberty Net, operated by Western Guard party leader John Ross Taylor, was ordered by the Human Rights Commission to cease and desist. Taylor defied the order, went to jail, and eventually beat a path to the country's top court to put the ruling to a constitutional challenge. The majority ruled that the original cease-and-desist order was a justified infringement of Taylor's speech rights, given the harm caused to the community by Liberty Net. Quoting the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Chief Justice Dickson wrote: "The opinions that Mr. Taylor seeks to disseminate through the telephone system clearly constitutes the advocacy of religious hatred which Canada has an obligation under Article 20(2) of the Covenant to prohibit."
The Taylor judgment was quoted probably a hundred times in the Collins case, by the CJC and their interveners. They believed Collins was doing much the same damage as Taylor was, and they were looking for a similar remedy – not to gag Collins entirely; just to ban future columns on this subject. It hurt Jews, they argued. Especially Holocaust survivors who didn't need to hear the Voice of North and West Vancouver since 1969 deny their memories and their pain.
But it also hurt Jews to be vilified as censors, to be called "thought police" and even "Gestapo" for their role in taking an opinion writer to court for bad opinions a first for Canada and a terrifying precedent in the mind of anyone who considers press freedom sacred. Many Jews wanted no part of it. Even the Western Jewish Bulletin (whose owner is American) joined the free-speech brigade, infuriating the CJC and alienating many readers: "Our refusal, through our editorials, to condemn Mr. Collins's right to express his views caused some readers to ask, 'Are you Jews first, or are you journalists?' "ran an editorial in the September 26 issue. "The answer is both.... to distort the case to comfort ourselves would be unforgivable as journalists – and as Jews."
"This hurts us in so many ways," Robert Waisman told me one day during a lunch break at the hearings. Waisman, who survived Buchenwald as a child but lost his parents and four brothers, was part of a small delegation to the tribunal from the Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society, and I had watched him squirm in his seat all morning. Sitting directly' behind him in the public gallery were three Collins supporters who had been whispering derisively about Jews. "We're damned if we speak out, and we're damned if we don't. We don't want to give him the publicity, yet in the thirties someone got up and started in the same way and we ignored it because, we said, he's a madman. So we can't just sit back and say, well, look, he's just a nut."
Rabbi Imre Balla is not so sure. "I see that Doug Collins is in the papers, he's on television – isn't this exactly what he wants?" The rabbi of Har-El, the North Shores only Jewish congregation, had invited me into the trailer that served as an office and chapel for more than a year while his synagogue was under construction. (It opened in time for Rosh Hashanah.) The imposing structure, its southern wall made of stone imported from Israel, stands just downhill from West Vancouver's British Properties – one of Canada's wealthiest neighbourhoods (where Jews were not welcome to live until the early fifties). The new synagogue is the first real home to the North Shore congregation that has been renting church and school space for more than two decades. And it's geographically correct: Har means mountain; El stands for God. Connecting the main building to the Hebrew school is an artfully landscaped bridge over a creek, symbolic of the bond with nature and neighbours. "This is part of our mandate, to build a bridge to other communities," says Balla. "And to cross the bridge, through education."
We share a laugh, at the bridge's expense. We're talking about the Lion's Gate now. Jews who live on this side of it are a somewhat different breed from those who live "over town." We're a smaller and quieter minority up here, on the har, which fits the overall demographics of these burbs. The North Shore has been largely insulated from the rapid changes that immigration brought in the seventies and eighties to Vancouver and its south and east bedroom communities. As recently as 1991, more than eighty per cent of North Shore residents spoke English as their first language, compared to fifty-seven per cent in Vancouver. The quaint, upscale shopping enclaves of Ambleside in West Van and Edgemont in North Van are likened to Vancouver's Kerrisdale back in its Jolly English heyday of the sixties. Only in the last few years have wealthier immigrants started moving across the bridge in any numbers – at their peril, some say. I've heard older residents bemoan the unpleasantness of strolling the Ambleside seawall these days: you hardly see any "Canadians" there. North Shore Jews, for the most part, just mind their own business.
This might explain why no-one from Har-El attended the Collins hearing. If there were boosters among the congregants, they made no attempt to organize or voice support. Many, however, have stopped circulation of the North Shore News to their homes. "Time is too short," is Rabbi Balla's outlook. "There are only twenty-four hours in a day and I want to use them to focus on something positive in my community." He had the same response a year and a half ago when, on a Friday night, swastikas were spray-painted across a half-built wall of the new synagogue. By Saturday morning there was no sign of vandalism: members of the neighboring Unitarian Church had formed a midnight posse and painted over the defacement, turning an ugly incident into a "positive story," in Balla's books.
"What good will come of this hearing? What good would a boycott do? Do you think it would stop Doug Collins? Do you think it will stop his followers? It can end up like a crusade," argues Balla. "It can go underground, and it can be even more dangerous because people will say, 'the Jews are silencing us.' If they do go underground, you never know where they will surface. Don't you think that in another part of the world, in another part of the city, somebody will take over? There will be others; there will always be others."
Balla, forty-nine, came to Har-El from Hungary in 1982 – the second son of Holocaust survivors who lost their firstborn infant in Budapest's disease-ridden Jewish ghetto. Before the war, Budapest was the heart of Hungary's very old Jewish community of 800,000. About 600,000 perished in the war. "Maybe it was 599,000. Maybe it was 601,000," notes the rabbi, who heard his calling as a boy, growing up in a city haunted by empty synagogues. "I wanted to carry on the lives of those who were murdered. And what if it was only 550,000? What difference does it make, questioning the numbers? The danger in this revisionism – the real test – is yet to come, when the survivors are all gone. Is everything going to be negotiable then? This is why we need to focus on education, why we need to support the work the Holocaust Centre is doing."
This is Balla's answer to a rhetorical point made by Peter Worthington in a July 1 column. "For some reason," the Toronto Sun columnist wrote, "the numbers in the Holocaust experience are important to Jews." Perhaps you have to be Jewish to know just how important, and how maddening it is to be made to feel defensive, even guilty, for relying on scholarship to understand history. "No-one who has studied the subject seriously on the basis of the most recent evidence and scholarly work believes that the number is less than 5.2-million and most of us now think that the number is close to or over six million," says Leonidas Hill, a professor emeritus of history at the University of British Columbia who specializes in twentieth-century Germany and has published two large volumes on the subject, in German. In a written submission to the tribunal, he argues: "No serious scholar doubts that very large numbers of Jews were murdered in gas chambers with gas. There is much photographic and written wartime documentation about how Jews were killed, including reports written by perpetrators as well as by Jews who escaped from camps or survived them. Massive documentation was combined with extensive testimony at the postwar trials, first the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, then many other trials in a number of countries, including eastern Europe." But such facts, says Hill, make no headway against deniers who maintain the myth of a Jewish plot – "in this case supposedly to sustain Israel and to slander German history and bleed the German people through reparations."
If scholarship and reasoned debate make no impact on revisionists, what does? "when they come out from under a rock, you beat them. And when they come out again, you beat them again!" offered an otherwise mild-mannered friend of mine. We were at a dinner party where the chatter was, typically, all about Collins. Like most middle-aged Jews I know, my friend broke his teeth on Holocaust history, his parents lost relatives, his friends lost parents, and memories of all those losses are sacred. And like many Jews of the snake-beating variety, he fears that the numbers game played by people like Collins is designed to cleanse the sullied reputation of National Socialism and usher it into the North American mainstream. As far as he's concerned, these people belong underground, on the lunatic fringe. They don't belong in a newspaper with a large mainstream readership and the clout to influence opinion.
To which the Holocaust denier replies: that's his opinion, and he ought to be free to print it. Free speech is the touchstone of revisionism – you can pick up the theme in Collins and trace it back through the legal trials of dozens of others. Recall Victoria lawyer Doug Christie's freedom-fighting words in defence of Jim Keegstra, Malcolm Ross, John Ross Taylor, and Ernst Zündel – all of whom Collins has invoked as examples of free speech in action. "Freedom of Speech" was emblazoned across the hard hat worn into court by Zündel, Toronto author of The Hitler We Loved and Why and distributor of Did Six Million Really Die? Christie called Collins as an expert witness in Zündel's defence, most of which revolved around Christie's contention that "the Zionists" were wielding their power to curtail freedom of speech with the result that the public was prevented from challenging the "propaganda" about the 6-million.
Collins still refers to the Zündel victory – the Supreme Court having ruled, on a four-three vote, that the archaic False News law did indeed pose an overly broad violation of speech rights. It was at Zündel's trial that Collins met Fred Leuchter, an American gas-chamber "expert" who reported that there could not have been homicidal gassings at Auschwitz, Birkenau, or Majdanek. Leuchter was discredited on the stand, admitting he was not an engineer as he'd claimed, and was later arrested in and deported from England. He is now under order by the U.S. government to stop making racist statements or risk facing prosecution for practising engineering without a licence, but Collins continues to believe Leuchter was right – hence his stand on the gas-chamber "myth." Among Collins's other favoured sources are: David Irving, an English academic condemned by the British House of Commons as a "Hitler apologist" and currently banned from entering Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, and South Africa; Robert Faurisson, a former literature professor from the University of Lyons who wrote that the gassings were a "gigantic politico-financial swindle whose beneficiaries are the state of Israel and international Zionism"; the late Paul Rassinier, author of Debunking the Genocide Myth; and Arthur Butz, who wrote The Hoax of the Twentieth Century – a book Collins describes as a seminal influence.
Like Irving, Faurisson, Rassinier, and Butz, Collins has had his work published by the California-based Institute for Historical Review, whose bi-monthly journal is banned in Canada (though Collins has informed his North Shore News readers how to send away for it). In fact, his News column has been reprinted verbatim in that journal, about which Speck says he knows nothing. Speck also shrugs at the mention of the Council on Public Affairs Digest, a newsletter published out of Salmon Arm, B.C., which has reprinted a number of Collins's columns lifted straight out of the News – mugshot, headline, and all. The same digest runs ads for a video called "Doug Christie in the Holy Land," produced by Zündel's Samisdat Publishers, in which "you can walk with Doug as he tours holy shrines in Jerusalem and other places in Palestine..." as well as for a tape by "the courageous American execution expert" Fred Leuchter which includes footage from his research trip to Auschwitz and Majdanek.
By cloaking themselves in a veneer of academic respectability, revisionists gain access to a mainstream audience, writes Deborah Lipstadt, chair of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University and author of the 1993 book Denying the Holocaust. But strip away the veneer and at their core they are no different from neo-fascists, she writes. "They hate the same things – Jews, racial minorities, and democracy – and have the same objectives, the destruction of truth and memory. But the deniers have adopted the demeanor of the rationalist and increasingly avoided the easily identifiable one of the extremist. They attempt to project the appearance of being committed to the very values that they in truth adamantly oppose: reason, critical rules of evidence, and historical distinction. It is this that makes Holocaust denial such a threat. The average person who is uninformed will find it difficult to discern their true objectives."
Lionel Kenner is not the average person – not by a long shot. Peter Speck calls him "a nutcase." I've joined Kenner for coffee on the deck of the Lonsdale Quay Public Market, and I'm a little embarrassed because he's been badgering our waitress about all the noise she's making moving tables about. Cantankerous, yes. But a nut? More like a short, sharp thorn that Collins and Speck can't seem to get out of their sides. The seventy-three-year-old retired Simon Fraser University philosophy professor, who lives in a duplex midway between this market and the North Shore News offices, found out the hard way that A.J. Liebling was right – freedom of the press belongs to whoever owns one. Three years ago, Kenner took it on himself as a reader, a philosopher, and a Jew to challenge the News by complaining to the B.C. Press Council about Collins, in particular a column similar to "Hollywood Propaganda." It was called "The Story Keeps Changing," published August 18, 1993, and in it Collins mentioned the usual suspects – Irving, Rassinier, Faurisson, and Butz – to support his revisionist argument. Through rhetorical sleight of hand, he also managed to find support in Winston Churchill, the International Red Cross, and two of the world's most acclaimed Holocaust scholars, Raul Hilberg and Yehuda Bauer. "What difference does it make," Collins concluded, "whether the figure was six million, one million, or 300,000, as was stated by the Red Cross after the war?" It was an impressive argument, if you're what Deborah Lipstadt calls "the average person who is uninformed."
Kenner spent the better part of a year researching his complaint – becoming about as informed as a reader can be. He went to the original sources cited by Collins, contacted the International Red Cross in New York, even telephoned the office of the Chief Rabbi in London, then brought all his polemical skills to bear in a seventeen-page single-spaced statement of complaint. "Some people say the numbers are irrelevant – what does it matter whether the number of Jews deliberately killed was five million or six million or seven million?" wrote Kenner. "But the numbers do matter. As Hegel said, a sufficient difference in degree constitutes a difference in kind – keep enlarging a car and it ceases to be a car and what you then have is a bus.... A disagreement as to whether there were five or six million Jews deliberately killed does not constitute a disagreement as to whether the Holocaust occurred, but a disagreement as to whether the figure was six million Jews or, say, just twenty Jews who were deliberately murdered would constitute a disagreement as to whether the Holocaust occurred."
Lionel Kenner submitted his complaint to the Press Council became he subscribes to the "marketplace of ideas" theory of newspaper publishing, and in fact has become one of the North Shore News's more regular letter writers. He hoped, in this case, all could be resolved on the printed page – in the form of an apology and correction.
The Press Council ruled that Collins and his publisher had, indeed, breached its Code of Practice by misleading readers and misquoting scholars. The News was obliged to run the half-page adjudication, but the Press Council did not mandate an apology or correction. "The Code's accuracy provisions must not be narrowly applied here because Mr. Collins was engaging in the expression of opinion, not writing a news story," wrote the Press Council's executive secretary Gerry Porter summarizing the adjudication. "Therein lies the most rigorous expression of this Council's deep commitment to freedom of speech." It would be inappropriate, Porter went on, "for Mr. Collins and the News to apologize for publishing opinion columns that the complainant does not like or approve of."
So Kenner's year of research was put down to a question of his own likes and dislikes. He was incensed by the ruling, as were many others who read it. Sparks flew in the letters sections of newspapers across the province, including this submission to the Victoria Times-Colonist from Sol Littman of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Toronto: "By its decision, the Press Council essentially says that none of the editorials in B.C. newspapers can be trusted since they are expressions of opinion and not necessarily based on fact. What a way to trivialize your own industry!"
The next Jewish complaint against Collins was taken to the provincial Human Rights Commission rather than to the Press Council. "That would have been pointless," says Dr. Michael Elterman, the CJC's Pacific Region chair. Using stacks of Kenner's research to bolster their case, the CJC launched their "Hollywood Propaganda" complaint in the fall of '95, putting the New Democrats' Human Rights Code amendment to its first serious test. Lionel Kenner sat in the front row of the public seating area almost every day of the hearing.
"What offends me mainly is the dishonesty of the thing," Kenner tells me as our waitress recedes in a funk. We've been discussing the famous Voltaire quote, comparing notes on all the ways we've seen it skewed in the last few months. The most original version appeared in a letter of response to Sol Littman by Gerry Porter, in the Victoria Times Colonist: "Perhaps he [Littman] should reflect on Voltaire's silly old notion that while 'I may hate to hear what you have to say, I will defend with my life your right to say it.'" This drives Kenner mad: "I may hate to hear" suggests to him that what is being said is the hurtful truth, as in, "Jews don't like to hear the possible truth that the Holocaust never occurred."
And then there's the News's variation on the theme. If Speck and Renshaw are willing to defend their columnist's views as reasonable, says Kenner, "then it is false that they are publishing Collins because they believe in free speech – that we disagree with what he says but uphold his right to say it. They're saying that they are putting out what is in effect neo-Nazi propaganda, deliberately. That neo-Nazi propaganda is reasonable according to them."
"It's the end of rational discourse," says Kenner. "Obvious distortions become accepted as truths. You have to look at the words: he's not just saying the Holocaust didn't happen. He's saying it was manufactured for money-making reasons. So the community around here is being told, week in and week out, that the Jews are financial swindlers who make up a story like this just to line their own pockets, that there's a worldwide conspiracy."
But what's the remedy? Neither of these complaints has silenced Collins, I suggest, pointing to the steady howl of indignation emanating all summer long from page seven of the News. ("Taking on a powerful pressure group is bad for the health," he wrote in one column; "Criticizing Jewish organizations is not on," in another.) "No, but at least now the public is finding out what Collins has actually been saying," says Kenner. "Now everyone in Canada knows exactly what has been going on here. The North Shore News is in a panic, as they should be. Because the real crime here is that this hate propaganda has been coming out in what's supposed to be a community newspaper delivered free of charge to almost every door in the North Shore. If you want International Historical Review stuff, you have to send away for it. Or Aryan Nations stuff – send away for it. But up here, people are being force-fed the same stuff."
At least we were – up to the middle of September when Doug Collins retired. Martyred on the altar of free speech, say his supporters. But Collins won't have any of that: "All things come to an end, good, bad and indifferent," he told a Vancouver Sun reporter. (He refused to talk with me.) He had intended to retire years ago, he said, but when the complaints came in he felt obliged to stay and fight: "It would not have been proper to leave before the hearing.... I would not run out on the bravest publisher in the country." He added that he is not hopeful about the outcome of the tribunal (a ruling is expected before Christmas) and he doesn't want to be seen "running out" after a negative decision. Collins does not run out. And anyway, he's got work to do, from home – putting out a collection of columns, and a book titled Rights and Wrongs, "even if I have to publish it myself. I may be retiring, but I am not quitting."
"He's quite a guy, you know, he really is," says Speck. "He has his principles."
© 1997 Saturday Night Publishing (Canada)
© 1997 Information Access Company
|Title:||Freedom's just another word... (business relationship between 'North Shore News' publisher Peter Speck and columnist Doug Collins)|
|Summary:||'North Shore News' publisher Peter Speck's attitude towards the termination of columnist Doug Collins is examined.|
|Subscriber's Price:||Free (for the first 50 documents each month)|
|Document Size:||Long (8 to 25 pages)|
|Citation Information:||(v112 n9) Start Page: p58(2) ISSN: 0036-4975|
Additional information about this document
|Title:||Freedom's just another word , The business relationship between 'North Shore News' publisher Peter Speck and columnist Doug Collins|
|Sources:||Saturday Night, Nov 1997, v112 n9, p. 58(2)|
|First posted on CODOH:||Oct. 30, 1997, 6 p.m.|