Last week, the Ontario Civil Liberties Association (OCLA) urged the government of Canada to “save Monika Schaefer.” Schaefer, a Canadian citizen of German heritage, is facing incitement charges in Germany for her YouTube videos denying the Holocaust.
In Canada, Holocaust denial is not explicitly banned in the Criminal Code. Germany, however, has a distinct responsibility to preserve the memory of the state’s dark past. To prevent a resurgence of Nazism, German law bans the downplaying or denial of Nazi atrocities as incitement to hatred.
The OCLA claims this contradicts international law. It cites the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that says laws penalizing expression of opinion about historical facts are incompatible with the Covenant.
This is worse than cherry-picking. This is picking a single cherry and burning the rest of the tree.
The OCLA omits the fact that European courts and human rights bodies have ruled that Holocaust denial laws are legitimate and compatible with the Covenant and similar rights codes. This includes the European Court of Human Rights, European Commission of Human Rights, and the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC).
These authorities did so for sound legal reasons. For example, in 1993, Robert Faurisson complained to the UNHRC that his rights were violated when he was prosecuted under France’s Holocaust denial law. The UNHRC rejected his complaint, noting that the rights of the Covenant may be limited to respect the rights or reputations of others.
The UNHRC cited a 1982 case involving Holocaust-denying pamphlets in Germany. At the time, the European Commission of Human Rights upheld the use of Germany’s law, affirming that the pamphlets could be reasonably seen as “a defamatory attack against the Jewish community.” It ruled that, by describing the Holocaust “as a lie and Zionist swindle, the pamphlets in question not only gave a distorted picture of the relevant historical facts but also contained an attack on the reputation of all those … described as liars and swindlers … ”
The Commission’s logic remains relevant now that online videos have replaced print pamphlets. On YouTube, Schaefer declares she “had been thoroughly indoctrinated as we all were” and refers to the Holocaust as the “biggest and most pernicious and most persistent lie in all of history.” How could this be anything but a painful, defamatory attack on survivors, their families, and the entire Jewish community? Indeed, according to a CBC report, Schaefer laughed in court when her brother, who faces similar charges, showed the Nazi salute three times as proceedings began.
Set aside the OCLA’s sloppy research and superficial argument. Given the myriad of worthy causes in recent years, one must question the Association’s interest in Schaefer’s case.
Where was the OCLA when Canadian citizen Ece Heper was arrested in Turkey for criticizing Erdogan’s jailing of journalists?
Or when Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim was arrested during a humanitarian trip to North Korea and spent two years in captivity for allegedly trying to overthrow the regime?
Or when, just months ago, Canadian professor Kavous Seyed-Emami died under suspicious circumstances after being jailed in Iran for “espionage”?
I can find no statement by the OCLA in support of Seyed-Emami, Lim, or Heper – fellow citizens whose rights were grossly violated by repressive regimes. Instead, the OCLA is passionate about the need to “save” a Holocaust denier heading to court in Germany, a liberal democracy with strong legal rights comparable to Canada’s.
Perhaps this is to be expected from an organization whose nine-person advisory board contains some odd choices. It includes American anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, who was Roseanne Barr’s running mate on the 2012 presidential ticket for the Peace and Freedom Party. “Truther Girl Sonia,” another board member, is a YouTube personality who peddles anti-vaccine myths and other crackpot theories. If conspiratorial YouTube monologues qualify one for the OCLA advisory board, perhaps Monika Schaefer will join it one day.
With human rights under attack in many parts of the world, civil liberty needs its champions. Unfortunately, none seem to be found at the OCLA. In campaigning for Schaefer, ignoring the real victims, fumbling the facts, and peddling a maximalist dogma, the OCLA has lost any credibility and cheapened a noble cause.
Shimon Koffler Fogel is CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA