Meet the Ernst Zundel of Canada’s anti-Muslim movement

Canada's anti-Muslim movement has many propagandists like the late Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel who often escape responsibility for their actions and for the people they radicalize



In 1984, Ernst Zundel, a German national who had been living in Canada for decades, became the first person in Canada to be charged under the archaic “false news” law for anti-Semitic hatred. 

Sabina Citron, president of the Canadian Holocaust Remembrance Association, was forced to make a private complaint under the Criminal Code to compel the government to act. Zundel was convicted but in the end the Supreme Court of Canada nullified the conviction when it found the law to be unconstitutional.

After many more years of legal and human rights actions, Zundel was finally deported to Germany where he was jailed for five years. He died last year.

Today, Canada has an anti-Muslim movement with many propagandists like Zundel who often escape responsibility for their actions and for the people they radicalize.

One who has repeatedly crossed the line, Mississauga resident Kevin Johnston, a fixture at anti-Muslim demonstrations in Toronto and Ottawa that warn against what they see as the “Islamization” of Canada and so-called “creeping Sharia” law. Johnston has been charged with wilful promotion of hatred, a very rarely used provision in the Criminal Code intended only for the most egregious offenders. He is scheduled to go on trial next month. 

Last July, Attorney General of Ontario Yasir Naqvi finally gave the necessary permission to charge Johnston after an investigation by Peel Regional Police into material published on his website. In one video, Johnston offered $1,000 for video of Muslim children praying at school. His site also informs readers that he plans to release a “documentary” denying the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims, the facts of which are recognized by the United Nations and supported by the interim report of Canada’s envoy to the Rohingya crisis. 

But his Islamophobic criticisms aren’t limited to problematic interpretations of the Muslim faith. To Johnston and others like him, Islam and its practitioners are a monolithic and dangerous enemy to be excluded from Canada.

In a now deleted YouTube video, Johnston fulminates that “Muslim men who come from these third-rate nations are as disgusting as they come.” He goes on claiming “Their religion [Islam] makes them angry, not happy. The only time that they’re ever happy is when they’re molesting women.”

To many, Johnston is a blowhard who comes off looking like a clown with his incredible conspiracies, the likes of which you’d find on Infowars.

But people often forget that Zundel was also a buffoon who would show up for his court dates wearing a hard hat with the words “freedom of speech” written on it. One time he arrived for a hearing wearing a yarmulke (skullcap) and announcing, “Today, I am the Jew.”

Like the Jewish community’s attempts at dealing with Zundel, it took sustained complaints before action was taken against Johnston.

As Jews, we understand why we must confront the haters. Many of the individuals and groups targeting Muslims have also been exposed as anti-Semitic, and the Jewish community is slowly coming to realize that defending our Muslim-Canadian neighbours is both compassionate and an act of self-preservation. 

By attacking both communities, this anti-Muslim movement is doing more for relations between the Jewish and Muslim communities than many thought possible. This past year, for example, Jews and Muslims came together to discuss security and safety at our places of worship in this increasingly dangerous climate.

Johnston is another opportunity for mutual defence – and combatting hate propaganda through Canada’s legal system.

Bernie M. Farber is a social justice consultant, writer and human rights advocate. With additional research by Evan Balgord. 

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