The Battle of Victoria -- The Gallant 29 Hold the Line for Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech won and the strident enemies of freedom failed in their attempt to close down a free speech meeting at the Colwood Branch of the Victoria Public Library Friday, June 19, 1998, in what Paul Fromm, Director of the Canadian Association for Free Expression hails as "an important milestone in securing free speech, at least in British Columbia."

Like Horatio holding the bridge in Roman history, Doug Christie, the general counsel for the Canadian Free Speech League, stood guard at the library door, letting in the participants and occasionally having to deny admission to a screaming protester.


Twenty-nine free speech supporters, many of them middle aged or elderly, had to walk through a protest mob estimated at 200, and endure slurs and abuse and the chant: "Immigrants in; Nazis out!" Two free speech supporters paraded in waving the Red Ensign, which they said was Canada's real flag, before the massive erosion of rights that have occurred over the past two decades.


The highly charged atmosphere, heated up by days of press coverage and intense pressure on the Library Board to cancel the booking, grew more feverish the day before as NDP MLA Mohinder "Moe" Sihota (Esquimalt-Metchosin) joined the opponents of free speech and made a series of slanderous charges, stating that the CFSL would "be propagating their hate." He added: "These people are coming into the library with blood on their hands," suggesting that the CFSL had a hand in the murder of Nirmal Singh Gill, a Sikh caretaker in Surrey in early January.

"Sihota lies," countered Paul Fromm. "Neither the Canadian Free Speech League nor any of the speakers had anything to do with the unfortunate events in Surrey. As for the widely circulated slander of 'hate', no one at this meeting has ever been charged or convicted under Section 319 of the Criminal Code -- the hate law." Sihota, said Fromm, "is trying to vilify and trash free speech supporters. It seems he's decided to wiggle his ears and run his mouth to try to attract the attention of Premier Clark and maybe get back into the cabinet by putting himself at the head of a trendy anti-racist parade."

Doug Christie

As the meeting opened, Christie led the free speech supporters in prayer. "Just the fact that we have assembled here without violence on our part proves that we are not what they say." He praised the Greater Victoria Library Board for its commitment to intellectual freedom. "The pressure is enormous on the library board. The library employees have shown a lot of guts and so have those library union members who spoke up against union leadership [in the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union]." He added that Sandra Anderson. chairman of the Greater Victoria Public Library Board "has been a very brave person. She's been under siege."

"Who's against freedom of speech in this province?" Christie asked. "The unions and the NDP! Also, the media and the RCMP have been creating the impression there would be 500 to 1,000 protesters."

Doug Collins

The keynote speaker Friday night was long-time journalist and columnist Doug Collins. On his way into the meeting, the much decorated World War II veteran had scoured the crowd for Moe Sihota. "If I'd seen Sihota, I would have told him he wasn't fit to polish the boots of the people coming to this meeting and that he was a little snot," Collins said to laughter and applause.

"What we have here in B.C. is a heresy law where truth is no defence," Collins explained. "History doesn't belong to the Canadian Jewish Congress," he said. "History belongs to history. We have the right to debate history," he added, referring to the controversy about a column he wrote where he dubbed the Spielberg movie Schindler's List, "Swindler's List" and noted the extensive Jewish presence in Hollywood. A complaint by the Canadian Jewish Congress landed Collins before a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal last year. He was the main target of Bill 33 -- amendments to the B.C. Human Rights Code that made publishing statements "likely to cause hatred or contempt" of a whole host of privileged groups an offence. Collins was exonerated but the hearing cost the North Shore News over $200,000.

"Now," said Collins, "Harry Abrams of B'nai Brith in Victoria has made a further complaint about six columns, including the one of Schindler's List. Abrams gets legal aid, even though he's a fairly well-off businessman," Collins explained.

"What does he want? He wants $5,000 from me and a further $5,000 from the North Shore News for the hurt and injury we've caused his people. Good old Harry wants another $2,000 for business lost while preparing his complaint."

"My answer to Harry is: 'Get lost Harry!'" the columnist said to enthusiastic cheers.

Collins concluded his talk by quoting U.S. columnist Joseph Sobran who wrote: "An anti-Semite used to be a person who hated Jews. Today it's a person who is hated by Jews."

The protest against the free speech meeting was organized by Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island and by the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union. A poster produced by Local 301 of the BCGEU called the coalition "Communities Against Hate" and urged people to "Rally Against the Racists!" The defamatory flyer proclaimed: "The Library Board needs to know that the platform they are giving to hatemongers is an assault on the safety and dignity of our community." The flyer insisted: "The Canadian Free Speech League is a front for well known white supremacists, Holocaust deniers and Nazis. They are not about free speech! They are about hate speech."

Terry Graham

Saturday, the two day conference continued with featured speaker Miss Terry Graham of California. She is the founder of Feminists for Immigration Reduction Now. Miss Graham discussed California's problems with bilingual education. One common approach, she said, means the students are taught in Spanish all day long except for about 20 minutes of English. "This goes on for 5 to 7 years. My country is being taken over. My schools are not teaching our values and all this is being done with our money," Miss Graham explained. the result is catastrophe, she said. "Thirty years ago, California had the best education system in the U.S. Now, we're the lowest, except for Guam."

"We're being invaded," Graham continued. "We immerse the children in their native language. Over 200 languages are spoken in our schools. American teachers are teaching children to read and write in these languages, in which many of their own parents are illiterate! We immerse children in their native language. We have no objective standards to measure the results.

"In California, we pay out over $1.2-billion to teach illegal alien children. Bilingual education means many children are coming out of our system illiterate in two languages," she charged."Uncredentialed teachers recruited from foreign countries whose only skill is that they speak that foreign language. American teachers are being purged because they only speak English.:"

Before introducing the next speaker, chairman Doug Christie announced the death that afternoon of Miss Helen McNicol of Victoria. She had died that afternoon of a stroke, shortly after her 90th birthday, May 13. Miss McNicol had been a long-time family friend and loyal worker and supporter of the Canadian Free Speech League. "In memory of her, we shall carry on," Mr. Christie said. "She never gave up in this cause."

Eileen Pressler

Eileen Pressler of Salmon Arm recently won a five-year defamation action against communist professor David Lethbridge and Westcom, the owners of a Kelowna television channel for libellous suggestions that she and her husband were building a paramilitary compound on their rural property. "I'd like to thank our legal team of Douglas Christie and Barbara Kulaszka and our loyal cheering section who came to court each day for their support and prayers. The decision brings to a close five and a half years of abuse and business boycott at the hands of David Lethbridge. Lethbridge demonized us through the platform of the media in order to isolate us," she recounted.

Paul Fromm

Ontario-based Paul Fromm, editor of the Free Speech Monitor, told of a recent seizure of over $1,450 worth of books by Canada Customs, including such books of Irish Fairy Tales and Arthurian Legends. "During Ireland's occupation by Britain, Irish nationalists wrote a popular ballad with the refrain, 'They're hanging men and women for the wearing of the green,'" Fromm said. "In Canada, today our thought police are seizing books of Irish myths." Fromm explained the highhanded powers of Canada Customs and revealed that no book has ever been the object of a successful prosecution under the hate law. Nevertheless, Canada's list of banned books has hundreds of political and religious titles.

Mr. Fromm also hammered a recent unanimous decision by MPs to ban Ersnst Zundel from the Parliament Buildings so that he could not use the Parliamentary Press Gallery for a June 5 press conference to call media attention to a recent Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that truth was no defence in a charge, under Section 13.1, of telephonically communicating statements likely to hold a privileged group up to hatred or contempt. "Parliament has become a hotbed of hypocrisy and humbug,:" Fromm charged. "What can you expect, however, from a body whose Speaker thinks the communist Cuban system and ours are similar? What can you expect from a body that lets its Speaker rule that MPs may not keep a Canadian flag on their desks lest it offend the separatists?"

Bernard Klatt

Oliver, B.C. Internet Service Provider (ISP) Bernard Klatt explained that minority pressure groups had made conditions untenable for him to continue at the present time. "Due to pressure from some Jewish groups in 1996, Marc Lemire's Freedom Site was kicked off some Toronto sites. We hosted him. Then, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre urged us to remove him. That is not how we do business. People can change the contents of their webpage whenever they like. There's no feasible way for a provider to monitor content."

Then, said Klatt, the pressure intensified. "Okanagan College sent me a letter saying I couldn't teach Internet courses any more because of my stand against censorship of the Internet. Sol Littman of the Wiesenthal Centre hadn't forgotten us and early this year labelled Oliver 'the hate capital of Canada.'"

Klatt hung tough, but B.C. Tel wanted him to sign a contract making him liable financially and legally for anything anyone posted through is service. He refused. Then, "the place we were renting space from in town for our ISP equipment came under commercial blackmail from the local newspaper. A reporter told his landlord: 'We know whom you're renting space to. Wouldn't our readers like to know that you're renting to Fairview Technology?'"

In summarizing the Canadian Free Speech League's work, Doug Christie said: "Over the past 14 years, we've kept the information flowing to preserve freedom of speech. We've been a light in the darkness to preserve our freedom heritage. Many of our forefathers fought and died for these freedoms. This is the heritage of freedom we must hold dear."

The attacks on freedom of speech are becoming more frenzied, Mr. Christie warned. "Now we see the intensification of the vilification. Moe Sihota has branded this group by his suggestion that we have blood on our hands. Thus, Sihota has hinted at the criminalization of me. However," Christie concluded, "truth cannot be destroyed by lies!"

Keltie Zubko

Doug Christie recognized and honoured Keltie Zubko for her dedication and talent in producing and editing the monthly Friends of Freedom Newsletter, published by the CFSL.

After the meeting's concluding banquet, Doug Christie called on Doug Collins, the Grand Old Man of Canada's free speech movement, for some parting advice. "I think Napoleon said it best:" Collins replied, "'Attack is the best form of defence.' We should take every opportunity to give the enemy hell," Collins urged to eager applause. "For instance, in my own case, the Canadian Jewish Congress didn't count on the many groups, like the B.C. Press Council or the B.C. Civil Liberties Association concerned about freedom of speech. Over 2,000 people on the North Shore and as far away as Paris and Britain subscribed to my defence fund. The only reason the human rights tribunal dismissed the complaint was they knew the law would be struck down if it was appealed in court."

Collins concluded with an announcement which resulted in a standing ovation: "I'm bringing out a book of my columns in October."

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