Saturday, August 27, 2011

Today in History - Aug. 27 - Zundel wins at Supreme Court

Today in History - Aug. 27


On August 27, Canada's Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the law under which Ernst Zündel was convicted for publishing a Revisionist booklet about the Holocaust. In a four-three decision, the judges ruled that the "false news" law under which he was convicted violates the freedom-of-speech provisions of Canada's Charter of Rights, and is thus unconstitutional.



Thereby, the highest court of Canada threw out, as unconstitutional, section 181 of the Criminal Code of Canada - the ancient "False News law" under which Ernst Zündel had been tried and convicted in 1985 and 1988. By doing so, the Supreme Court of Canda substantially strengthened the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  [source]

The Supreme Court of Canada held that:

Section 2(b) of the Charter protects the right of a minority to express its view, however unpopular it may be. All communications which convey or attempt to convey meaning are protected by s. 2(b), unless the physical form by which the communication is made (for example, a violent act) excludes protection. The content of the communication is irrelevant. The purpose of the guarantee is to permit free expression to the end of promoting truth, political or social participation, and self-fulfillment. That purpose extends to the protection of minority beliefs which the majority regards as wrong or false.

Section 181, (the "False News Law") which may subject a person to criminal conviction and potential imprisonment because of words he published, has undeniably the effect of restricting freedom of expression and, therefore, imposes a limit on s. 2(b).

Writing for the majority, Justice Beverley McLachlin stated:

"To permit the imprisonment of people, or even the threat of imprisonment, on the ground that they have made a statement which 12 of their co-citizens deem to be false and mischievous to some undefined public interest, is to stifle a whole range of speech, some of which has long been regarded as legitimate and even beneficial to our society."

[See full SCC decision: R. v. Zundel, [1992] 2 S.C.R. 731]



In spite of the hostility and hatred which the media had shown to Zündel over the years, they grudgingly admitted in editorial after editorial across Canada that the decision was the right one and that the "false news" law had threatened the right to freedom of speech of all Canadians. La Presse in Montreal applauded the decision, the Montreal Gazette said "good riddance" to the law. The heading of the editorial in the Globe & Mail was "The right ruling on false news". (Globe & Mail, August 28, 1992) The Toronto Sun, an extremely anti-Zündel newspaper whose editor refuses to use Zündel's name in columns and editorials, nevertheless agreed with the verdict in an editorial headlined "Free to speak" and stated that "the cause of freedom of expression is too important to be sacrificed on any altar of anger" at Zündel. (Toronto Sun, Aug. 28, 1992) The Toronto Star editorialized that "this mature verdict upholds free expression..." (Toronto Star, August 28, 1992) The Calgary Herald editorial agreed that "to protect freedom of speech for all citizens, society must tolerate even the most obnoxious opinions of a minority." (Calgary Herald, Aug. 28, 1992) [Source]



For more information on the 1992 Supreme Court victory for freedom of speech see: