A porridge of history as it relates to current events in the news - history can let us into the back door and see why things are the way they are.
Saturday, 14 June 2014
Jim Keegstra: The 5Ws and one H of a Holocaust Denier
In school, I was taught the 5Ws of questioning: Who, What, Where, When, Why. We also never forgot their best friend How. How likes to saddle up with the others so that's the way I wrote my piece as well. Thanks to some great teachers I had, I've applied that to everything I read now, and also how I write a bit too. It helps me get down to the meat of the matter, and understand something quickly.
In dishonour of one so-called teacher, I now bring you the 5Ws and one H of James ‘Jim’ Keegstra, a Canadian holocaust denier, who died last week on June 2 at the age of 80.
This guy in 1984: Bad tie included
Keegstra was a social studies high school teacher in Eckville, AB. He was born in 1934 in Vulcan. He was the son of Dutch immigrants who came to Alberta in 1928 and worked in various communities as hired farm hands.Keegstra married in 1956 and apprenticed as a mechanic before going to university to become a teacher. He taught in
Cremona, Red Deer and Medicine Hat before moving to Eckville. He also served as a town councillor and mayor from 1974 to 1983 — when his views on the holocaust cost him a re-election.
Keegstra made international
headlines in 1983 when he was accused of teaching students that the
history of the Holocaust was fraudulent, and that a Jewish conspiracy
was responsible for many of the world’s problems.For those of you not familiar with the details of the Holocaust, go visit the US Holocaust Museum online. Keegstra had been teaching his anti-Semitic views
to his social studies class for 14 years before a parent complained to
the local school board about his lessons.
Former students later testified that he told them that
Jews were responsible for human sacrifices during the French Revolution;
that women’s liberation, abortion and atheism were part of a Jewish
cabal; that the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal were also caused
by Jews, and that Pierre Trudeau had been groomed to obey the Jewish
conspiracy. Disagreeing with
him meant a failing grade. “If you wrote on the Jewish conspiracy … then
you passed. If you wrote against it, then your mark wasn’t the best.
Everyone knew it,” former student Blair Andrew told the court.
WHERE and HOW:
The area this all went down in Canada is really important. Alberta in the 1970s and 1980s was pretty redneck and racist, with a lot of Anti-Semetic groups putting roots down. I know because I lived there. If you weren't white and a protestant, you were pretty much on the outside. Which suited my family just fine. If you don't believe me, go read any of these articles provided by the University of Calgary. Southern Alberta where he was from was known as the bible belt. Very strong Christian organisations, that blamed Jews for the murder of Jesus, were in vogue there from the 1930s up until the 1990s, and still many operate there today. Eckville where this all went down did not have any synagogues or strong Jewish community living there. That would have made it very easy for someone like Keegstra to operate under the radar for years. And let's be honest: were the parents actually paying attention or knew about what there kids were learning? Did they care? That's a hard question to ask.
It all went down in the big hair era
It began probably when he first started but for some reason (ahem inherited racism), these hateful views were largely ignored by the school principal. There
were complaints about his teachings as early as 1978, but Keegstra
was fired only in December, 1982 after some parents started realizing and complained to the school board and the Red Deer Advocate reported on it. In 1983, he was formally charged he was with unlawfully promoting hatred.
In January 1984, Keegstra was stripped of his teaching certificate
and charged with “...wilfully promoting hatred against an identifiable
group” under the Criminal Code of Canada. Keegstra was convicted at his original trial and fined $5,000. His
lawyers appealed the decision, arguing that the law was unconstitutional
and that it violated provisions on freedom of expression in the
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. After multiple trials and appeals the case eventually reached the
Supreme Court of Canada, who in 1990 and again in 1996 upheld Keegstra’s
conviction in a landmark ruling that found that the Criminal Code section on public incitement of hatred did infringe on Charter rights, but that infringement was justified. Keegstra received a one-year suspended sentence, one year of probation, and community service.
WHY and HOW:
Not only why would he deny the holocaust, but why does what he did so important? The case focuses on two things. One: that despite overwhelming evidence, people have illogical views of historical events all the time. Through the 1980s and early 1990s, Keegstra and other deniers
in Canada such as Ernst Zuendel and Malcolm Ross grabbed headlines. Overwhelming primary evidence was shown to these people, but their inability to look and evaluate their views in a logical way never happened. People cling desperately out of fear and hatred to ideas all the time. Foe Keegstra, his understanding of Christianity really affected him. “Here was a people who denied everything about
Christ, yet they were called the chosen people. That is a
contradiction,” he recalled in an interview with Saturday Night
It also gives them attention too. As the courts in Canada debated, people on the street
debated whether prosecuting them was necessary or only gave them a
soapbox and the prestige of martyrdom. His lawyer Doug Christie, very much used the court case as a platform. During
preliminary hearings, Christie refused to ask for a publication
ban. Keegstra was in the witness box for 26 days, allowing him
to expound at length about his theories and the pamphlets and books that
"Madame Justice McLachlin, in her dissenting judgement in Keegstra, argued against the criminal restriction of hate promotion, not by focusing on the value of this expression, but rather by pointing out how difficult it is to draw a line separating hate promotion from other forms of expression...I suspect that the line-drawing problem is not, as Madame Justice McLachlin suggested, that the line between legitimate and illegitimate expression may be drawn in the wrong place by the legislature or the courts, or that even if the line is drawn in the right place, it may have a chilling effect on legitimate expression. The problem is, rather, that the distinction between what in her example is assumed to be legitimate expression and what is assumed to be illegitimate expression is not all that clear."