"Free speech doesn’t mean that publicly funded institutions such as libraries are obliged to provide a pulpit for white nationalists to promote their hateful agenda."
Prominent members of Canada’s neo-Nazi movement are holding a memorial service at a Toronto Public Library branch tonight for Barbara Kulaszka—a lawyer who defended them in front of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
Jewish organizations want the Toronto Public Library to cancel the Richview Library booking, but, in an email, Ana-Maria Critchley, manager of stakeholder relations for the Toronto Public Library, tells Torontoist that’s not happening.
The memorial will have speakers like Marc Lemire, former president of the Heritage Front, a neo-Nazi group; Christian Klein, who says Germans were the real victims of WWII and that Jews ran camps where Germans were tortured and murdered; and Paul Fromm, Canada’s most prominent white supremacist of the generation left standing.
“We firmly support free speech,” says Sara Lefton, vice president at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “But that doesn’t mean that publicly funded institutions such as libraries are obliged to provide a pulpit for white nationalists to promote their hateful agenda . . . CIJA is voicing our strong opposition with the library, mayor’s office, and City Council.”
That message is echoed by Avi Benlolo, president and CEO at Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, as well as Nathan Leipciger, past president of the Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants.
“I am an 89-year-old survivor of Auschwitz and many other Nazi concentration camps,” Leipciger says in his email to the Toronto Public Library. “My entire family was murdered by [the] Nazi regime and I was outraged when I learned that a number of white nationalist leaders, including Paul Fromm and Marc Lemire, have rented space at a Toronto Public Library in Etobicoke despite their long record of promoting bigotry and their disturbing ties to the neo-Nazi movement. It is unimaginable that the Toronto Public Library should provide a platform for hatred and bigotry in our wonderful multicultural city.”
The people who plan to speak at the memorial service come from the time when Toronto was a stomping ground for neo-Nazis in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the time, the Heritage Front was fighting Anti-Racist Action members in the street and planning an attack on the Canadian Jewish Congress. At 206 Carlton Street, Ernst Zündel had printed Holocaust-denying and anti-Semitic books and pamphlets with titles like, Did Six Million Really Die?
Back then, the neo-Nazis were easily recognizable. They often had shaved heads, white pride tattoos, and combat boots with white laces. Anti-Racist Action, a precursor to Canada’s anti-racist and anti-fascist movement of today, formed in response to the public presence of white supremacists in Toronto. In 1993, the resulting violence culminated in a bloody showdown outside Sneaky Dees, when members of the Heritage Front went to the bar looking for retaliation for an act of vandalism earlier that day.
Around 1995, the Heritage Front crumbled under the pressure of the ARA and a litany of assault charges. Lemire revived it for a brief time in the early 2000s. Zündel was deported to Germany in 2005 and found guilty of Holocaust denial. He served five years in a German prison. Zündel is no longer in jail, but he’s not allowed to return to Canada.
Paul Fromm is a remnant from those days. He was a supporter of the Heritage Front and organized events to protest Zündel’s deportation and his imprisonment. Today, he runs an organization called the Canadian Association for Free Expression, which argues for the free speech rights of white supremacists. He still maintains ties to several white supremacist groups and regularly speaks at their events. Fromm is currently fighting to restore the Canada Post mailing privileges of Your Ward News, a neo-Nazi pamphlet distributed in Toronto and the surrounding region.
Fromm was barred from Parliament by a 2007 motion which passed the House of Commons with unanimous consent. He was denied access again in 2016 when Fromm was planning to hold a press conference to speak out against Trudeau’s apology for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which Indians—British citizens and mostly Sikhs—were denied entry to Canada on racial grounds. He was also refused entry to the United States in 2015 when he told the officer at the border that he was planning on attending a white supremacist conference.
Human rights lawyer Richard Warman says the TPL should perhaps reconsider their refusal to cancel the booking.
“Paul Fromm has a decades-long association with the neo-Nazi movement in Canada. Marc Lemire used the online name “FdaJEWS” (i.e., F*** The JEWS), attacks Indigenous people as “chugs,” Pakistanis as “pakis,” and wrote, ‘When I grab my sawed OFF, N****** get hauled OFF.’ The Federal Court found . . . Lemire worked ‘to develop websites to disseminate messages of racial hatred and to incite violence.’
“If that’s not good enough for the Toronto Public Library to say, ‘No thanks,’ then what could be?”