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MARCEAU: Holocaust denial should be outlawed in Canada

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The federal government has taken a stand against antisemitism in Canada by tabling new legislation criminalizing Holocaust denial as part of C-19, the Budget Implementation Act.

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The Jewish community has been advocating for this for years.

Thoroughly documented by both the perpetrators and the victims, the Holocaust is a proven historical fact. Denying it is a strong indicator of radicalization and a reliable predictor of rising antisemitism, itself an indication of a malaise that ultimately impacts society at large. What starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews. History has taught this lesson many times.

Holocaust denial is so poisonous that it, and the Jew-hatred that animates it, must be tackled with every instrument available, including the law.

The Jewish community is not concerned about Holocaust denial because it is offensive, though it certainly is. We are concerned about it because it is an indication of potential violence to come. And that should concern all Canadians.

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Consider this: Jewish Canadians represent 1% of the population. Yet, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada, Jews are the victims of 62% of police-reported hate crimes targeting religious minorities. And this astonishing number is rising – not just in Canada, but around the globe, where Jews are being attacked online and in the real world.

Antisemitism is not limited to a single source. Because of its nature, antisemitism can emanate from across the spectrum. Jew-hatred is common place on both the extreme left and extreme right. A recent in-depth study conducted by the European Union shows religious fundamentalist groups, such as extremist Islamists, also foment antisemitism. Understanding antisemitism and its sources is necessary to develop a holistic, multi-pronged solution. Criminalizing Holocaust denial is just one aspect of combating this multi-headed hydra.

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As a proud member of the Jewish community, I deeply value freedom of expression in Canada. Discussing challenging subjects among those holding diverse opinions is central to Jewish tradition. To protect this cherished Canadian value, we must also acknowledge that it is not absolute.

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Canada understands that and, to protect this right, our Courts have ruled some limits as “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Some argue that existing legislation makes criminalization of Holocaust denial redundant. Not only do I disagree, but I also think it is more necessary than ever.

Fellow democracies that also value freedom of expression have outlawed Holocaust denial as a response to rising antisemitism. These include France, Germany, Belgium, and the Czech Republic. In January, the United Nations adopted a resolution condemning Holocaust denial, demonstrating how seriously the global community takes the issue.

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The Government of Canada should bolster this legislation with a variety of other efforts to combat the world’s oldest form of hatred. These include:

1) creating an effective online hate strategy that would, among other things, establish an independent regulatory regime and compel social media companies to be frontline first responders to hate on their platforms;

2) supporting the creation of a Community Security Trust (based on the UK model) to complement the existing Security Infrastructure Program;

3) establishing a community institution security rebate, to offset part of the financial costs incurred by communities at risk;

4) enhancing training for judges, prosecutors and law enforcement in hate crime to ensure they recognize and address it; and,

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5) increasing resources to educate Canadians about the Holocaust and antisemitism.

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Antisemitism is a multifaceted challenge for our society. The nature of the world’s oldest hatred is that it evolves and changes to suit the times. Sometimes Jews are attacked as a religious group, other times as an ethnic group or a cultural minority, and still other times because of their nation-state.

To protect Canadian society, it is important that Canada has many tools to address it. Criminalizing Holocaust denial is one of those tools. It is an effective way to discourage the use of such toxic, harmful rhetoric and, when it occurs, provide Canadians with the ability to address it definitively.

Richard Marceau is Vice-President of External Affairs and General Counsel at the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the advocacy agent for Jewish Federations across Canada.

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