Ottawa, Canada
Ottawa, CanadaiStock

The Canadian Senate invited B’nai Brith Canada to testify at hearings on proposed legislation to make Holocaust denial and distortion illegal.

B’nai Brith provided testimony to the Senate Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on how to improve the bill, suggesting ways to strengthen the framework of the government’s proposed amendment to Bill C-19, which comes in the wake of increasing antisemitism in Canada, B’nai Brith explained in a statement.

Sam Goldstein, B’nai Brith’s director of legal affairs, said that while B’nai Brith respects and promotes freedom of speech and is “highly sensitive to limitations on it,” it was “an unfortunate necessity” to amend the criminal code to add Holocaust denial and distortion.

“Antisemitism may take many forms, but as this legislation recognizes, Holocaust denial and distortion remain go-to staples for antisemites,” Goldstein said. “We are grateful for the committee’s invitation to address it on new Holocaust denial legislation, particularly in light of a poll showing fewer than half of Canadians knew of the annihilation of much of European Jewry during [World War Two].”

In order to prevent violating basic freedom of speech rights, Goldstein recommended to the committee to give “discretion to the prosecuting attorney in terms of how to apply charges under the proposed bill [and] also advised using the greatest precision in drafting the amendment’s wording.”

He suggested using the word “distortion” instead of the proposed term “downplaying” as it is more precise and more likely not to impinge on free speech rights.

B’nai Brith explained that “Goldstein also suggested removing the ability for anyone to use the ‘defence of truth’ against charges of Holocaust denial since it can be used to repeatedly litigate whether the Holocaust happened, or that it even happened at all. Since the facts around the Holocaust are well-established and well-documented, allowing a ‘defence of truth’ would represent a step backwards.”

More than 25 European countries have laws against Holocaust denial.