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It’s deja vu all over again.

A decade or more ago it was the late Doug Collins who was insulting minorities left and right, denying the Holocaust, or the extent of it, and defending his bile by saying he was exercising free speech. Tendentious though that claim was, I defended Collins in print and on the air protesting that his right to spout garbage was guaranteed by the Charter and that it was this that distinguished Canada from countries where to insult meant jail.

I despised Collins and everything he stood for and he despised me as well, singling me out for vicious columns in the North Shore News when it suited him.

Now we have Arthur Topham, a publisher in Quesnel and well known as an anti-Semite. Having a Jewish wife, Topham denies hating all Jews and, as I read his stuff, believes he is just an anti-Zionist. But Topham has now been convicted on two counts of “willful promotion of hatred” dealing with something he wrote about Jews, his favourite target.

Guilt by association is always a tricky business so I’ll simply state what you can find on Topham’s website.

For this trial, Topham created a legal defense fund in the name “The Spirit Of Doug Christie“. He was a lawyer who defended Topham, Ernst Zundel, Malcolm Ross and their ilk and regularly celebrated Hitler’s birthday.

On top of the plea for money these are the men with whom Topham identifies:

Malcolm Ross, a teacher who denied the Holocaust as a way of life, Ernst Zundel, ditto, Terry Tremaine, founder of the Canadian National-Socialist (Nazi) Party, Jim Keegstra, Alberta teacher and Holocaust denier, David Ahenakew, First Nations leader, who lost his Order of Canada for saying that Jews were a disease in Germany and that Hitler was trying to “clean up Europe” when he “fried six million of those guys”, and Topham himself.

I, personally, despise what all these men stand or stood for and have no difficulty in finding them all to be viciously anti-Jewish. The reader will draw his/her own conclusion.

The action began when Harry Abrams, formerly an official with the League of Human Rights for B’nai B’rith complained at a Topham webpage – his comment upon learning of the conviction was “Canada says you should be able to walk in peace and not be fearful to be victimized, to be vilified, because of who you are or what you were born as”. (According to Topham, Abrams is a serial complainer which is irrelevant to the case itself.)

Sorry, Mr. Abrams, Canada says nothing of the sort.

The BC Civil Liberties Association doesn’t agree with the contents of Topham’s website, and the offending words, and says “we think it’s much better to have the fullest possible range of free speech out there, including the kinds of awful ideas with which most people in society would disagree, so that people are able to counter those in the Democratic debate.”

I agree entirely with the BC Civil Liberties Association’s position and I must tell you that I am not a bigot or racist and you would have an impossible task in finding anybody who would say that I am.

What happens as a byproduct of this disgraceful business is that those who defend the right of these lowlifes to peddle their rubbish is that they will be seen by “higher purpose persons” (in the late Denny Boyd’s wonderful term) as bigots and racists for so doing.

There are two main issues here.

In some countries the right to insult does not exist and you can go to jail for doing so. Ernst Zundel and historian David Irving, in Germany and Austria respectively, have been imprisoned for denying the Holocaust and similar idiocy.

Zundel, after millions of dollars were spent prosecuting him in Canada, was acquitted in the Supreme Court of Canada and I believe quite rightly so. In the bargain he got hundreds of thousand of dollars in free publicity.

To create the “insult” as an offense starts an irreversible process and God only knows who will be captured by it.

Do we have thought police attend political meetings and wait until the going gets hot and heavy, perhaps a high muck-a-muck gets insulted, then weigh in with the night sticks?

Will we go to the only recently abolished English of a Lord Chamberlain deciding whether or not plays, TV or movies offend people?

What about the terrible words we never use in any kind of decent society, about Blacks, Jews, Orientals, and so on. Does use of, say, “nigger” call for prison? Will someone patrol the sports arenas and changing-rooms? Or is it only someone with a printing press or microphone who’s at risk?

It’s always very well to say that we would only go after the very serious cases but who will lead the way making that decision, the local cop on the beat? The police chief, the head prosecutor, perhaps a local priest? Why not a rabbi?

The situation is totally different when words include a threat of violence or a call to violence. No society can permit conduct of that sort. Canada does not do so and the Criminal Code is clear on that subject.

No, we are talking about the insult. Those who have had a great deal of discrimination in their lives and in the group to which they belong, will naturally feel the need for protection against abuse of speech, but no democracy can give that and remain a democracy.

The second aspect is that stated by the BC Civil Liberties Association, namely that the best defense against the likes of Arthur Topham is that decent people reject what he has to say, shun him, and most of all, fight back in defense of the minority insulted.

Canada considered this thorny question 35 years ago. I had the privilege of being involved in the run-up to the passage of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The decision had to be made by our First Ministers whether we were a society where you could do anything the law permitted or you could do anything that the law did not expressly forbid. It’s a key distinction. The Charter determined the latter to be the case* but to be on the safe side singled out some rights for emphasis thus the safeguard of free speech was written as strongly and carefully as possible.

26. The guarantee in this Charter of certain rights and freedoms shall not be construed as denying the existence of any other rights or freedoms that exist in Canada.

This brings with it the defense of the likes of Topham, Zundel and Collins but, as with insurance, this is the premium we pay to ensure that except in a few special circumstances, the State minds its own business when it comes to what we say.

Without wanting to take this too far afield, the opposite result permits the state to jail women for wearing an article of clothing which, like Topham’s words, offends some people.

Arthur Topham should be punished but that must come from society at large in the way they handle his hurtful words and how they deal with him socially.

Tempting as it may be for those who are victims, and one can certainly understand their concerns, to have punishment by the state, it is not a matter for the long arm of the law.

It’s a long and very expensive row to hoe but in the end Topham will be made a martyr to racists by the system and the Supreme Court of Canada will interpret the Charter in the only way it can and acquit him.

It was an ill-advised prosecution and will result in much more harm than good.

5 Responses to “No tears from me for Arthur Topham”

  1. Cucciolo says:

    Letting these guys speak freely airs it all out. These views have to be kept out in the open for everyone to see and hear.

    Then people can laugh at their ridiculous and juvenile bullshit.

    I think that’s the cure for crap like this. Openly laugh at them.
    Every time they show up somewhere to speak or if they’re just walking down the street, just point at them and laugh out loud.

  2. James Goode says:

    Now wouldn’t it be refreshing to see the newly-elected Trudeau Liberal party, in defence of our freedom of expression, take on the task of reigning in prosecutions such as this. Perhaps this would require revisiting and revising the applicable legislation in order to better protect that freedom. But that might be more politically charged “change” than the political environment can cope with.

  3. Katja says:

    I very much appreciate the tone of this article, but there are several points that I’d like to make. You say that “The situation is totally different when words include a threat of violence or a call to violence. No society can permit conduct of that sort. Canada does not do so and the Criminal Code is clear on that subject.” There are degrees of hate incitement, and they build and feed off one another. Here is one example on Topham’s site that clearly shows a virulence toward the Jewish people (as probably 90% of Jews are pro Israel which makes them Zionists) and which may as well be handing a loaded gun to the Jew Hater:
    “Obviously there is no understanding the megalomaniac psychopathic monsters behind these horrors, nor should there ever be forgiveness given to the Congress and Senate who KNOWINGLY endorse and support these crimes against humanity.

    “Yes THIS IS our world. Yes THESE are our representatives. YES they should be given a final meal of GMO-laced fast food, taken out at dawn, blindfolded, offered a last cigarette… and well, you know what logically follows that final puff.

    “Remember, the people behind these programmes are all funded flunkeys of the Zionist entity and many of them, including the creators and top promoters, are dual citizens. The Congresspeople and Senators are owned by the Jewish mob known as AIPAC, or perhaps Israel proper.” Topham writes this in regards to chemtrails or geoengineering, but it is clear that he would like to go out and execute the Zionists behind this nefarious activity.

    Freedom of Speech is one thing, but incitement to violence should be a criminal offense. A friend of mine was physically attacked for his environmental principles because several pro-logging newspapers were spouting propaganda about how environmentalists were to blame for the dwindling jobs in logging – not a mention of mechanization which has taken many thousands of jobs. Not a mention of decades of overcutting. So just saying that environmentalists are the big baddies on the scene had local villagers throwing rocks through my friend’s window and beating him up.

    There bloody well should be hate incitement laws, and if that means curtailing free speech when someone is publicly spouting lies to engender hatement & distrust of an entire race of people, then I, for one, am entirely for such justice. Because without such aggressive laws, another Holocaust will be just round the corner when the right Jew Hater comes into political power.

  4. angelo nuzzo says:

    I do agree with Mr. Mair that it is an ill-advised prosecution. As much as i disagree with Mr. Topham’s ideas . He does have the right to publicize them. I would have found other methods of engaging with him in discussion.

  5. Harry Abrams says:

    I just just came across this column in February 2017, just after Topham lost his challenge to the Canadian criminal laws against willful promotion of hatred.
    Judging from Raif’s comments it doesn’t look like he was properly aware in 2015 of the nature of the charges that Topham was facing.

    Anyway, the jury conviction was for published incitement to genocide, which is a tad more serious than simply posting harsh opinions about minorities.

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