James Keegstra

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James "Jim" Keegstra (March 30, 1934 - June 2, 2014) was a former public school teacher in Eckville, Alberta, Canada, who was charged and convicted of hate speech in 1984. The conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal but re-instated by the Supreme Court of Canada. The decision received substantial international attention and became a landmark Canadian legal case

Life[edit]

Keegstra was born in Vulcan, Alberta, March 30, 1934, to Dutch immigrant parents who were devout members of the Dutch Reformed Church.[1] Keegstra was an auto mechanic, a former mayor, and a high school teacher in the town of Eckville, Alberta.[2] He died in Red Deer, Alberta on June 2, 2014 and was survived by four children.[3]

Legal issues[edit]

Initial trial[edit]

In 1984, Keegstra was stripped of his teaching certificate and charged under the Criminal Code of Canada with "wilfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group" by teaching his social studies students that the Holocaust was a fraud and attributing various evil qualities to Jews. He thus described Jews to his pupils as "treacherous", "subversive", "sadistic", "money-loving", "power hungry" and "child killers". He taught his classes that the Jewish people seek to destroy Christianity and are responsible for depressions, anarchy, chaos, wars and revolution. According to Keegstra, the Jews "created the Holocaust to gain sympathy" and, in contrast to the open and honest Christians, were said to be deceptive, secretive and inherently evil. He taught his students the myth of a Jewish world-conspiracy whose blueprint allegedly came from the Talmud.[4] Keegstra expected his students to reproduce his teachings in class and on exams. If they failed to do so, their marks suffered.[5]

Keegstra attempted to have this charge quashed as a violation of his freedom of expression; this motion was denied, and he was convicted at trial. Many of his former students testified against him. Publicly stating that Keegstra had brought their town into disrepute, locals were unable to impeach Keegstra as mayor and instead overwhelmingly voted him out of office at the next election.

Appeals[edit]

Keegstra appealed this conviction, claiming that it was in violation of Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This section guarantees "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication." Keegstra also challenged his conviction on the grounds that Section 319(3)(a) of the Criminal Code of Canada, which states that a person cannot be convicted of promoting hatred if she or he establishes that the statement is true, but only where the accused proves the truth of the communicated statements on a balance of probabilities, was a violation of Section 11(d) of the Charter. That section guarantees "the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal." Keegstra was not able to demonstrate the truth of the many antisemitic statements he made to his students, on a balance of probabilities. In the CBC News presentation Canada's Hate Law: The Keegstra Case (1991), Keegstra himself displayed the material in which his views were obtained, admitting that none of it came from mainstream historical sources.

Keegstra's appeal ultimately reached the Supreme Court of Canada, in the case of R. v. Keegstra. In December 1990, the Court upheld Keegstra's conviction, ruling that the law's prohibition of hate propaganda and suppression of Keegstra's freedom of expression was constitutional. The majority of Justices looked at hate speech as not being a victimless crime, but instead having the potential for psychological harm, degradation, humiliation, and a risk of violence.[6]

Sentencing[edit]

At his original trial, Keegstra was given a fine of $5,000. A subsequent decision by the Alberta Court of Appeal reduced that to a one-year suspended sentence, one year of probation, and 200 hours of community service work.[7] While the Supreme Court upheld the original conviction and the constitutionality of the law, they did not restore the original sentence.

Social Credit Party[edit]

Keegstra was a long-time activist in the Social Credit Party of Canada and was a candidate for the party in Red Deer in the 1972, 1974 and 1984 federal elections coming in last place in each attempt. In 1986, he ran unsuccessfully for the party's leadership with the support of white supremacist Don Andrews and Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel. He lost by 67 votes to 38 to Harvey Lainson, an evangelical minister from Ontario. Keegstra served as the party's acting leader in July 1987, after the party's national executive ousted Lainson over his call to rename the party "Christian Freedom". Lainson refused to relinquish the leadership and Keegstra was expelled from the Social Credit Party and its successor the Christian Freedom Social Credit Party in September.[8][9][10]

See also[edit]

Preceded by
Harvey Lainson
National Leaders of Social Credit (acting)
1987
Succeeded by
Harvey Lainson

References[edit]

  1. ^ David Bercuson and Douglas Wertheimer, A Trust Betrayed: The Keegstra Affair, Toronto and New York: Doubleday, 1985, p. 6.
  2. ^ Steve Mertl and John Ward, Keegstra: The Trial, The Issues, The Consequences, Saskatoon, SK: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1985.
  3. ^ Holocaust denier Keegstra dead at age 80 Red Deer Advocate June 12, 2014
  4. ^ A Trust Betrayed: The Keegstra Affair, p. x.
  5. ^ Canlii.org
  6. ^ SCC.lexum.umontreal.ca
  7. ^ CBC Archives
  8. ^ Canadian Press (July 28, 1987). "Socreds pick Keegstra as interim party leader". Globe and Mail. 
  9. ^ "For the record Keegstra out of Socreds, leader says". Globe and Mail. September 12, 1987. 
  10. ^ "Parlinfo - Party files - Leadership - Social Credit Party of Canada". Parliament of Canada. Retrieved 2007-09-18.