Just days after a pro-Nazi trilogy of novels called "Lebensraum!" was published in the United States in April, Canadian customs agents confiscated a shipment of the books at the border, contending that they promote hatred against Jews and violate Canada's anti-hate laws.
The trilogy's author, Ingrid Rimland, 62, promotes the books and the ideas they contain on a Web site she runs out of a San Diego suburb. The site is named Zundelsite, and it is filled with the words and ideas of Ernst Zundel, a Toronto resident who is one of the world's most insistent Holocaust deniers and distributors of anti-Semitic literature. The trilogy, whose title, meaning living space, is a reference to German imperialism, was privately published.While Canada's laws are clear on how to deal with offensive written material, they are still untested on communication that seeps across the border electronically.
Now for the first time there is a serious attempt to address the issue of hate material on the Internet. The Canadian Human Rights Commission has charged Zundel with spreading hate propaganda and is intent on shutting down the Zundelsite. The commission contends that although the site is run from California, Zundel controls its content and thus can be prosecuted under Canadian laws.
"We don't think the Internet is a law-free zone - much as some people might want it to be when it suits their purposes," said Bill Pentney, general counsel for the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Among the thorny issues raised by the case is how to determine the origin of an Internet site. If the Zundelsite is based in California but Zundel is in Toronto, to what country does the site "belong" and who is responsible for its contents? The Canadian Human Rights Commission contends that Zundel controls the Web site and therefore can be prosecuted under Canada's hate laws.