I grew up in a small town in Saskatchewan during the fifties. There were no "Indians" and no Jews in my town. Aboriginal people were mostly restricted to reserves and did not even have the franchise. There was a Chinese family who ran the cafe and my father wopped me upside my head when I mimicked my school peers by calling the cafe "The Chink's". This same tolerant man was disdainful of Roman Catholics and blamed some of the trouble I got into on "your dogan friends." I'm still not quite sure what the root of this particular religious slur is.
When I went to the Big City (Regina) at age 17, I gravitated to tolerant people who quickly -- and gently -- set me straight about some of the bigotry which dropped trippingly out of my ignorant young mouth. I quickly accepted the concept of racial and religious equality and spent a good bit of time pondering the actions of the Israeli state -- especially after seeing the movie Exodus. Then as now I was helped to clarify my thoughts through discussions with tolerant people.
Now we are watching an aboriginal man who has previously been honoured with medals and held in esteem by his community brought to his knees after spewing anti-Semitic bigotry. The general response of the Jewish community was to invite Ahenakew to meet with them. I understand that such a meeting took place, Mr. Ahenakew apologized and resigned from public office. This is something of a sacrifice: if members of his own community were allowed to scrutinize his financial affairs, along with those of other chiefs who have become wealthy at the expense of their band members, he might not fare so well.
Ahenakew's forced resignation and public apology was justice.
The Saskatchewan Crown's decision to proceed against him after his acceptance of such a public flaying has nothing to do with justice. Brent Klause is an ambitious prosecutor and I'm sure he sees this prosecution as an easy win.
The ongoing court proceedings against him serve only to drive Ahenakew back into an entrenched position rather than examine the reasons why he made the racist outburst in the first place. Bringing in hired gun Doug Christie suggests Ahenakew has been taking advice from those who wish to fan the flames of discontent. Christie's argument that the comments were made in private rather than public is curious. This may be the boondocks but we are not brain dead. Are not 2-300 aboriginal people members of the public? The question which needs to be answered is whether or not Ahenakew made the comments with the sole intention of inciting hatred against Jews. Of course he did not have this as his purpose any more than any drunk who says hateful, stupid things actually expects to be taken seriously. Irrationality cannot meet reason without a sober bridge.
Once again we see that the Saskatchewan Department of Justice holds malice in its heart even as David Ahenakew tries to erase it from his. -- Sheila Steele, April 5, 2005
P.S. I scratched my head yesterday to try and come up with something to explain Ahenekew's performance in court. Apparentlly he is not repentent at all and Christie hinted at presenting a deence based on low-blood sugar triggering latent anti-Semitism. Today, I am saved by Les MacPherson who has written a column. -- April 7, 2005
On Friday I received e-mail from a friend declaiming the forces of evil which has seemed to overtake all tolerance in this land. I have considered this and here is my response: These are three websites which we can all use to help educate ourselves.
WINNIPEG - A First Nations chief in Manitoba says media coverage of David Ahenakew's hate trial will increase aboriginals' hatred of Jews and make the former leader of the Assembly of First Nations a martyr.
Ahenakew was on trial last week for promoting hatred against an identifiable group over comments he made at a conference in December 2002, when he praised Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust and referred to Jews as "a disease."
In a letter faxed to the Winnipeg Free Press, Roseau River Reserve Chief Terrance Nelson said he doesn't agree with Ahenakew's views.
But he claims Jews control Canadian media and ignore First Nations issues. In the letter, Nelson singled out CanWest Global Communications; its owners, Winnipeg's Asper family; and their newspaper, the National Post as "the voice of Jews."
He confirmed his views during a telephone interview, says the Free Press report.
David Matas, a spokesperson with the B'nai Brith League for Human Rights, has demanded the Roseau River band fire Nelson.
Last week, Ahenakew's lawyer Doug Christie said the reporter who wrote the newspaper article quoting Ahenakew should be charged with a hate crime.
Christie said reporter James Parker, who used to work for the CanWest-owned Saskatoon StarPhoenix, knowingly disseminated hate by writing the article in the first place.
If found guilty, Ahenakew could face up to six months in jail. Provincial Court Judge Marty Irwin is expected to rule on the case on June 10.
The often-colourful hate trial of disgraced Indian leader David Ahenakew wrapped up Thursday with the defence insisting it was "a unique case, a very unusual case," but not a criminal one.
If anyone is to blame, Doug Christie reiterated during his closing argument, it is the reporter who wrote the story.
"If a tree falls in the wilderness is there a sound? Similarly, if the story hadn't been published, no one else would have heard it," Christie said. "(The reporter) had no legal or moral duty to publish. Had he not, there would have been no public hatred."
The trial ended much more tamely than the spectacle it has been all week -- with both counsel loudly sniping at one another and shouts of racism from the gallery being directed at Crown prosecutor Brent Klause. Judge Marty Irwin thanked counsel for their "vigour and candour" in dealing with the obvious stress between them and "what was going on in the audience."
Right to the end, Christie expressed the same disdain for the media. He urged Irwin to make an example of this case and send a warning to the media to stop "ambush interviews."
"Until that decision is made, the media will take advantage of every loose cannon, every person who says something in haste. I know this places the media in a position of responsibility they would prefer not to have."
At a Dec. 13, 2002, health conference in Saskatoon put on by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), Ahenakew, 71, informed hundreds of delegates that during the two years he served with the Canadian military in Germany, he was told Jews created the Second World War. When interviewed by then-StarPhoenix reporter James Parker following the speech, Ahenakew said he believed that to be true. And he went further, saying the Holocaust was warranted because Jews "damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war."
"That's why he (Adolf Hitler) fried six million of those guys, you know. Jews would have owned the goddamned world."
When asked by Parker how he could justify the killing of six million Jews, Ahenakew responded, "How do you get rid of a disease like that, that's going to take over everything?"
Ahenakew claims his words were "twisted" by Parker but Klause noted they were written exactly as stated on the tape.
Racist speech, while improper, is not illegal if it is not stated with an intent to incite hatred, Christie said. He suggested Ahenakew's comments to Parker were disjointed and rambling, demonstrating a lack of intent.
"Words give you a picture of the mind and that is a picture of a mind in a state of confusion, an uncommitted mind," Christie said. "This is the clearest case where intent is patently absent."
Klause pointed out that Ahenakew testified this week that his role, in speaking at the FSIN conference, was "to inspire" people who look up to him as a respected leader.
Ahenakew charged that once Parker "baited" him into the discussion, he took advantage of his "condition" and wouldn't allow him to leave. The questions kept coming and he felt "trapped," Ahenakew said.
The former Assembly of First Nations (AFN) chief claimed the dose of medication for his diabetes and blood pressure was doubled two weeks prior to making the remarks.
"It affected me negatively, made me say things I wouldn't otherwise say," he said.
"People can get irrational and the first thing we lose is care with our words. But I'm not here to discuss the morality of words," Christie said, noting it is the law he is concerned about and the Criminal Code does not allow for charges of hate if the words were articulated in a private conversation.
The debate between Parker and Ahenakew "was the closest you can get to a private conversation between two people," he said.
Asked by Christie about the claim the Holocaust was done "to clean up the world," Ahenakew said Parker wouldn't give him time to explain. And when asked by Christie why he answered some other questions, the subject of which he now claims he knows nothing about, Ahenakew said he wasn't thinking. He gave an answer hoping to end the debate.
Klause asked how it could be private when one person was representing the public as a reporter. There has been no evidence Ahenakew ever saw a recorder, said Christie. Ahenakew consistently denied it, although Parker earlier in the week testified "it was in Ahenakew's face."
"Whether he knew or didn't know about the tape recorder, the act of publishing was not under his consent or control," said Christie, again blaming Parker.
While Ahenakew made his statements in a rash, heated debate, Parker had time to consider the legal consequences, talk to a lawyer and his editors, and listen again to the tape before publishing the story.
The issue of intent will be "paramount" in the judgment, said Irwin, who will render a verdict on June 10. The holdup is due to Klause opting to submit a written argument. He has until May 15 to submit it and Christie has until May 30 to rebut.
The added delay bothered Christie, who said his client "has endured the threat of these proceedings" for 2 1/2 years" and is looking for closure. It has effected Ahenakew's health and that of his family, said Christie, who expressed "doubt any Jew was suffering" because the comments weren't wilful and therefore, not dangerous.
Christie even questioned the very existence of a Jewish faith, saying, "whatever that may mean." He questioned what constitutes a Jew, even though an ordained rabbi testified this week as an expert in qualifying Jewish people and their faith as an identifiable group which could be subject to persecution.
Ahenakew shouldn't have to suffer anymore, said Christie.
Klause said the delays experienced in getting to trial are "solely attributable to Mr. Ahenakew" who couldn't secure a lawyer.
"The Crown takes this seriously. It would be a real disservice to the public" to rush," Klause said.
Ahenakew testified Thursday his anti-Semitic comments were blurted out in frustration as he began comparing the treatment inflicted upon First Nations people by European immigrants to the "persecution" of Palestinians by Israelis.
While in Israel on military assignment, Ahenakew saw two children blown up by Israeli anti-personnel mines. He also watched as the Israelis "began to take over the land of Palestinians -- their orchards, their water," he said. The same "persecution and genocide, murder, isolation relates to the First Nations in Canada," he claimed.
Christie played the audio tape of Ahenakew's tearful apology, made the week after he realized he would be charged by the RCMP. Ahenakew insists the decision to make the apology was a voluntary one but his "stubbornness and pig-headedness" kept me from coming forward sooner.
If the apology was truly sincere, Klause asked why Ahenakew repeated his comments in the July-August 2003 edition of THIS magazine. Ahenakew blamed that on the reporter as well.
Ahenakew often contradicted himself while his own counsel was questioning him. When Christie asked what he meant by 'disease,' Ahenakew said it was the monopoly ownership of businesses by Jews. "So you weren't referring to the actual Jewish people?" Christie asked.
"Yes," Ahenakew said.
"You were?" Christie said, surprised.
"Yes," Ahenakew said, then paused, "Well, not only Jews, but people in general."
"And you were using Jews as an example?" Christie asked?
"Yeah, sure," Ahenakew said.
He also testified the remarks taped by Parker do not represent thoughts he, nor anyone he knows, believe to be true.
"I denounce those statements and I denounce racism," he said, adding "it is never going to happen again."
But later in the examination by Christie, Ahenakew said he would make the comments again "if I was forced to." He didn't explain what that meant. He also said he still stands by his comments, then said he doesn't know what to believe anymore.
What a strange and contradictory man is David Ahenakew.
The most formidable Indian leader of his era, honoured for his devotion to progress and education, the Order of Canada gleaming from his lapel, Ahenakew also reveals streak of nastiness wide enough to obscure all his merits. Thus he finds himself in a Saskatoon courtroom facing criminal charges of inciting hatred against Jews, of all people.
Why Jews? What have Jews ever done to David Ahenakew?
There were no Jews on Sandy Lake (now Ahtahkakoop) Reserve west of Prince Albert where Ahenakew grew up. Elsewhere in the province, the Jewish population is so small as to be almost invisible. There are more Buddhists in Saskatchewan than Jews. There are more Hindus than Jews. Few groups on the planet are more benign than the Jews of Saskatchewan.
As is so often the case, however, hate defies reason. Himself a member of a historically oppressed minority, you'd think Ahenakew would be sympathetic to Jewish people. You'd think he'd embrace them as kindred spirits. Instead, he climbs on a soapbox to vilify Jews in terms so odious as to invite criminal charges.
From all indications, he is not the least bit repentant. On the contrary, he declared this week in open court, under oath, that he stands by his anti-Semitic rant at a FSIN conference in 2002. He seems to wear his hate now as a badge of pride.
We now see that his earlier public apology was more of about damage control than contrition.
". . . I extend my deepest condolences and apologies to the Jewish community," a tearful Ahenakew said at a news conference. But Tuesday, in court, he was anything but apologetic. Rather, he endorsed his vile comments to the effect that Jews are a disease, that they started the Second World War and so on. It's the kind of racist claptrap you'd expect from a neo-Nazi skinhead, not a member of the Order of Canada.
By ratifying his anti-Semitic remarks, Ahenakew all but closes off one possible line of defence. He has suggested both in and out of court that his offensive comments were delivered while he was tired and emotional, with high blood pressure and low blood sugar. But if that were the case, if Ahenakew really was addled by ill-health, you'd expect that he'd now want to distance himself from his comments. Instead, he embraces them in open court.
It's possible, of course, that Ahenakew was again tired, emotional and all the rest of it in court, too. It's also possible that he was tired, emotional, etc., when, months after his so-called apology, he complained in an interview with Toronto's This Magazine that Jews control the world media.
". . . There's got to be something done about that," he fumed.
Was this the low blood sugar talking, yet again? Or was it David Ahenazundel?
Ahenakew continues to blame everyone but himself for the fix he is in. He was provoked by an unethical reporter, he says. His words were twisted, his meaning distorted. He didn't know his remarks were on the record. It is the media that left his reputation in tatters. He is the victim of "a deadly attack." As if it is the media that keeps insisting that Jewish people are a menace.
Ahenakew's refusal to take responsibility is confirmed by his tortured legal defence. The law under which he is being prosecuted makes it a criminal offence to incite hatred against an identifiable group, except in private conversation. Through his lawyer, the very persuasive Doug Christie, Ahenakew argued that his anti-Semitic remarks, delivered in a speech to 200 people and then expanded upon in a taped interview with a StarPhoenix reporter, were private conversation. That the court took two full days to hear and dispose of this patently ridiculous claim before the trial itself could proceed is a measure of the generosity of presiding Judge Marty Irwin. Two minutes should have been sufficient.
It's not just Jews that Ahenakew wants rid of. He's got enough hate in him for almost everyone. He told the FSIN conference that, if he were still in charge, he'd lead Indians to war against all the other races in North America.
"You're lucky I'm not chief," he declared.
On that, at least, he could not be more correct.
Former Assembly of First Nations chief David Ahenakew testified at his hate trial Tuesday he still believes the Jews are responsible for starting the Second World War, despite being on trial for stating those remarks in December 2002.
"So you still believe today, in 2005, that the Jewish people started the Second World War?" Crown prosecutor Brent Klause asked Ahenakew.
"Yes," he responded.
"You stand by your comments?" repeated Klause.
"Yeah," Ahenakew said, adding that he wasn't afraid of offending anybody. "I'm talking the truth. I don't think I said anything wrong during my speech."
His original comments about the Jews starting the war were made to a Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) assembly of about 150-300 people on Dec. 13, 2002. He went further during an interview with then-StarPhoenix reporter James Parker, saying the Holocaust was warranted because Jews "damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war. That's why he (Adolf Hitler) fried six million of those guys, you know. Jews would have owned the goddamned world."
When asked by Parker how he could justify the killing of six million Jews, Ahenakew responded, "How do you get rid of a disease like that, that's going to take over everything."
The RCMP charged him shortly thereafter, resulting in the present trial in Saskatoon's provincial court.
Meanwhile, defence lawyer Doug Christie continued his offensive against the media, saying they are part of a police state. The trial as a whole spiraled further into a spirited spectacle as members of the gallery reacted loudly to statements by Klause and called him a racist.
Ahenakew's wife, Grace, led much of the commentary, even calling out to her husband in Cree as he was being cross-examined. Ahenakew would smile and nod.
Klause noted that in the interview with Parker, Ahenakew said the "goddamn immigrants -- East Indians, Pakistanis, Afghanistans and whites" were calling his grandson a "dirty little Indian" at school.
"Are you not an immigrant?" asked Klause.
God created the land and Indians were first on it, said Ahenakew. To which Klause replied, the study of anthropology suggests otherwise.
"And it's all written by you people," said Ahenakew, rousing laughter from the gallery.
"I suggest your people came across the Bering Straight," said Klause, causing the gallery to bristle with condemnation.
"Whose the racist now?" shouted one person.
By the afternoon, Klause had enough "of the tirade from the back" and asked Judge Marty Irwin to establish decorum. People were warned they would be escorted out if they spoke out any more.
After losing his bid to have Irwin exclude Ahenakew's taped comments from the trial, Christie called it "a setback for anybody who doesn't want to see the media get a licence to promote hatred if they can find someone in a moment of passion to quote. In my opinion, the media are now placed in the position of being a willing instrument of a police state. You are now capable of being used to not only to promote hatred with impunity but to gather evidence against people from private conversations to be used against them criminally."
Christie also lost an attempt to have Irwin issue a contempt of court order against the media for publishing and broadcasting Ahenakew's comments after Monday's proceedings, as a ruling on the taped evidence hadn't yet been made.
"If court was to rule the statements were privately uttered, they should never be part of the public trial and broadcast," Christie said to Irwin, noting that doing so prejudices Ahenakew.
"These media persons are so insatiably anxious to vilify the accused, they cannot wait for court to decide if it was a private conversation. (The media) are taking up the front row (in the courtroom) and turning this into a sensational circus," Christie said. "They should have respect for the court."
Suggesting the media is hypocritical by vilifying Ahenakew but repeatedly publishing the "so-called hateful" comments, Christie turned and glared at the row of reporters and said, "They're concerned about preventing the promotion of hatred? What a joke."
"I think you guys are doing a terrible one-sided attack on a virtually helpless individual," he told reporters outside court during the lunch break.
In court, Christie accused Parker of getting his hands on "juicy material" and wanting to use it to make himself "a media star" with no regard to destroying Ahenakew's career (the latter described his reputation as being in "tatters" since the story ran).
Under Christie's questioning, Ahenakew denied ever seeing Parker's notepad or tape recorder and therefore, did not know the reporter. Therefore, he thought he was engaged in a debate, or "confrontation" as Ahenakew put it, not an interview.
As for the comments to the general assembly, Ahenakew stated he was speaking to First Nations people, "my people," not society as a whole. His comments were being shared with a gathering of like-minded people and not intended for publication.
"Not a soul in this world would have known about the conversation (between Ahenakew and Parker) except for James Parker," Christie noted. "Who made them public then? Not Mr. Ahenakew."
While Ahenakew's remarks "may not be good or right or morally just," they are not criminal if they were private, Christie said.
But under Klause's cross-examination, Ahenakew admitted Parker asked for an interview and that he knew Parker from an ignominious reputation among the First Nation community. Parker had been reporting the aboriginal beat for 10 years to that point and many Indian people were unhappy with how they were portrayed in the stories, Ahenakew said.
"So you knew he (Parker) was a reporter and reporters have a nasty habit of reporting," Klause said. "They are paid to report things that they interview you about."
"But you don't go out there and try to destroy a person, or persons. The media has a filthy habit of distorting everything you say," Ahenakew fired back.
"With all due respect, Mr. Ahenakew, Mr. Parker reported exactly what you said," Klause said.
Ahenakew said he couldn't recall if that was exactly what he'd said -- that he would need to hear the tape again. Klause offered to play it but Ahenakew said he didn't want to hear it and he intended to plug his ears.
"Playing the tape is perpetuating the so-called hate. All it does is spread over the world and all of a sudden I'm an animal, a blatant, racist animal," he said.
Ahenakew insisted that his comments to Parker were made in a "confrontation" about the issue, not an interview.
As for the statements to the conference delegates, Klause asked how Ahenakew could believe it was private when the media was invited as was Amnesty International, the World Health Organization, College of Dentistry and College of Physicians and Surgeons.
On top of that, it was in a ballroom of one of the province's most prominent hotels, the Delta Bessborough, Klause said. And it was taped by FSIN for potentially wider use among the province's 100,000 First Nations, Klause noted. He asked Ahenakew if everyone had been sworn to secrecy.
"No, but we have a policy," Ahenakew responded.
Ahenakew was under the impression the FSIN protocol would protect him. The federation reviews such tapes before releasing them to ensure the comments accord with FSIN views, he explained.
What about other guests who weren't from the First Nations? asked Klause. Ahenakew said he wasn't directing his comments to them.
"It's an insult to First Nations people that you expect them to agree with your views because they are aboriginal," said Klause.
Ahenakew went on to state how "his" people are "at war" with everybody who isn't First Nation. He said his comments to Parker were made as he felt frustrated with the "genocide" inflicted upon his people for 500 years. He was comparing that to the Jews, he said. But Klause noted the taped evidence never mentions the First Nations plight.
In making his decision, Irwin agreed Ahenakew could not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, nor could he define his speech -- a 45-minute rant by one person -- as a conversation.
The sentence Ahenakew faces under the hate law is six months in prison or a $2,000 fine.
Canada's hate law is a dangerous instrument used to "isolate, alienate and criminalize people" who speak in anger but mean nothing by it, the lawyer defending a former high-ranking Indian chief said Monday.
As much as former national chief David Ahenakew is on trial for inciting hatred against Jews, the media is being chastised by his lawyer, Doug Christie, for being careless in wielding "enormous power."
"If people have to look over their shoulder every time they open their mouth and consider whether they're going to be charged, only those with power will be able to speak," Christie told reporters outside Saskatoon provincial court as Ahenakew's trial got underway.
"I'm well aware that Indian people have felt powerless for a long time. That perhaps is why sometimes they get angry. And anger is not necessarily intentional. Anger gets one to say things one doesn't necessarily think through and one doesn't necessarily mean. That happens sometimes. It happened here."
The RCMP charged Ahenakew with public incitement of hatred for remarks in December 2002. Speaking at a conference of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), Ahenakew said the Jews were responsible for starting the Second World War.
Following the speech, then-StarPhoenix reporter James Parker requested an interview and asked Ahenakew to clarify what he meant. In the taped interview played back in court, Ahenakew said Adolf Hitler was right to kill Jews during the Holocaust because they "damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war. That's why he fried six million of those guys, you know. Jews would have owned the goddamned world."
When asked by Parker how he could justify the killing of six million Jews, Ahenakew responded, "How do you get rid of a disease like that, that's going to take over everything."
The pair debated the subject until Ahenakew ended the conversation by saying, "To hell with the Jews, I can't stand them and that's it. Don't talk about the Jews," according to the tape.
During the playback, Ahenakew shifted in his seat, often removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose or leaned on the table with his head in his hands.
Christie focused his defence of one line of the hate law, which states, "Other than in private conversation." Despite an audience of 200-500 people (on witness estimations) at the FSIN conference, Christie argued Ahenakew's remarks are private because they were directed at an audience of First Nations people at an event that required registration and invitations.
But FSIN vice-chief Lawrence Joseph testified that media was invited in the hopes the main message from the conference, that of the federal government forcing First Nations people to sign medical consent forms, would be published along with the FSIN's opposition to it. The purpose of registration was simply to gauge how many people attended, Joseph said.
As for the conversation between Parker and Ahenakew, Christie was adamant it was private because Parker failed to introduce himself as a reporter and tell Ahenakew the comments would be published. Therefore, it was just a conversation, he said.
"It is incumbent upon the Crown to prove it was not a private conversation and that (if public) it must have been known to the accused," Christie said in court.
"To suggest that a private conversation made to 200 people and then made to a reporter -- who you know is a reporter who is going to broadcast that publicly -- is perverse," Steven Slimovitch, national legal counsel for B'nai Brith Canada, told reporters outside the courthouse.
He is monitoring the trial for the implications it has on the charter.
The trial is also being attended by civil liberties groups and a Holocaust survivor, Miklos Kanitz, who lost 100 members of his extended family to Hitler's troops.
The small courtroom seats 36 people but had 50 squeezed in. To accommodate everyone, Judge Marty Irwin made use of the bench in the prisoner's docket and placed chairs behind the counsel tables.
The gallery was treated to a trial replete with tension and bickering that rivaled that of TV dramas. One bone of contention for Christie was the media's monopoly of the front-row seats in the courtroom. They had been reserved for reporters by Saskatchewan Justice.
"This is not a media circus or event, it's a public courtroom. The reserved seats are not really appropriate or necessary," he said. "A good deal of my client's friends couldn't get in."
Irwin apologized for the small room, explaining the larger courtrooms were occupied.
"It is clear we have given them (media) preferential treatment (but) they do represent the public who can't be here. It's part of the open trial system and I'm comfortable with giving the media special consideration."
When Christie requested a voir dire (a trial within a trial after which the judge will decide whether to consider the evidence) on the videotape from the FSIN conference, Crown prosecutor Brent Klause objected, saying that Christie agreed during an earlier pre-trial that wouldn't be necessary.
"So I'm quite surprised, on the day of the trial, that he changes opinion and attempts to suppress the tape recording," said Klause, who suggested the tape be used to "set the scene."
"My friend makes statements that cast aspersions but I don't like to get into arguments," said Christie. "And I strenuously object to the phrase, 'set the scene.' This is not theatre."
In the end, the entire day was covered by the voir dire, leaving the evidence uncertain until Irwin decides what will be allowed. That is expected today after Klause cross-examines Ahenakew, who took the stand at the end of Monday
Ahenakew insisted his comments were never intended for broadcast and he wouldn't have uttered them otherwise. He said a tape recorder was not visible so he believed he was involved in a debate, not an interview.
Earlier in the day, Parker said the recorder was "right in front of his (Ahenakew's) face" and an interview had been requested, which implies publication. The question-and-answer session between Parker and Christie was tense, with each snapping at the other several times. Christie suggested Parker covered his recorder with his notepad but Parker insisted it was in the open. Christie also asked Parker why he didn't tell Ahenakew the comments would be "broadcast to the world."
"First of all, I didn't broadcast them to the world," Parker said.
Christie simply repeated the question, to which Parker said "No." He assumed Ahenakew knew him as Parker had been reporting on the aboriginal beat for the newspaper for 10 years and had met previously Ahenakew. After many questions to which Parker said he "could not recall" the answer, Christie said in frustration, "Can't recall, can't recall."
SASKATOON (CP) -- David Ahenakew's anti-Semitic comments have already cost him his place as a respected leader in the aboriginal community and have thrown his membership in the Order of Canada into question.
But experts say proving his remarks were criminally hateful is a different story.
Ahenakew's case is to go to trial Monday in Saskatoon provincial court. He's charged under a section of the Criminal Code that prohibits the wilful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group. If found guilty by the judge hearing the case, Ahenakew faces up to two years behind bars.
"The hate propaganda sections of the code went into effect in 1970, but we have had very few actual prosecutions under the section because it's a quite onerous section for the Crown," said Sanjeev Anand of the University of Alberta. He has published several papers on hate crimes.
"There are a lot of defences that the accused can make use of."
Anand said the Supreme Court has set the bar high when it comes to how hateful statements must be before they are criminal. The can't be just a flippant offensive remark.
Stephen Jenuth, president of the Alberta Civil Liberties Association and a lawyer who has defended clients against hate charges, said the case has got to be extreme.
"It has to be hatred as opposed to anything less than hatred," Jenuth said. "I think we recognize that it has to be a very clear and a very intense case before we bring the prosecution."
Ahenakew, 69, was charged after he made a speech as a Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations senator in December 2002.
During the speech, he complained about bigotry in Canadian society and accused the media of creating racial conflict. When asked by a reporter to clarify his comments, he said the Holocaust was justified.
"How do you get rid of a disease like that, that's going to take over, that's going to dominate?" he said. "The Jews damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war. That's how Hitler came in. He was going to make damn sure that the Jews didn't take over Germany or Europe.
"That's why he fried six million of those guys, you know. Jews would have owned the God damned world. And look what they're doing. They're killing people in Arab countries."
The comments provoked nationwide outrage and anger. Ahenakew apologized, but was stripped of his position with the Indian federation.
A committee began a review of his membership in the Order of Canada, but put that on hold when the criminal case began.
It took Saskatchewan's justice minister six months to decide whether Ahenakew should be charged - a move required under this specific section of the Criminal Code.
He pleaded not guilty in October 2003 and, after parting ways with his first lawyer Alan Gold, recruited Victoria lawyer Doug Christie to mount his defence.
Christie, a self-professed champion of free speech, has gained notoriety for defending other people charged with hate-related crimes, including Alberta teacher James Keegstra and Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel.
He's also behind a movement to separate the three Prairie provinces and British Columbia from the rest of the country.
On Sunday, reporters were invited by Christie's office to a downtown Saskatoon hotel for an afternoon "free-speech rally."
But shortly before Christie and Ahenakew arrived to speak to a half-dozen people who showed up, reporters were ordered out with no explanation.
Both Christie and Ahenakew refused to comment on the case as they went in.
Ahenakew, a father of five from the Sandy Lake reserve in northern Saskatchewan, was 35 when he became the youngest man ever elected as chief of the Saskatchewan Indian federation in 1968. He served a record 10 years in that job.
He also served as chief of the Assembly of First Nations from 1982 to 1985. He was named a member of the Order of Canada in 1978 for his work as a member of a United Nations committee as well as the World Indigenous Peoples Council. He was also cited for years of service to Indians and Metis in Saskatchewan.
He is no stranger to controversy. He once outraged aboriginal women by arguing hotly against federal government plans to abolish an Indian Act provision that stripped women of their Indian status if they married a non-Indian.
Ahenakew maintained that aboriginal people themselves should determine their own membership.
People may not like the anti-Semitic remarks made by former national First Nations chief David Ahenakew but the Canadian Charter gives him a sovereign right to express those views, says lawyer Doug Christie.
The Victoria-based lawyer, famous for defending people deemed to have offended society by provoking hatred, also said Ahenakew has been misunderstood and unfairly portrayed in the media. Ahenakew is charged with public incitement of hatred for remarks he made in December 2002 about Jewish people. When Ahenakew's provincial court trial begins today in Saskatoon, Christie will be his defence lawyer.
"I love freedom and I love my clients. I care for people as individuals," Christie said in a recent interview from Victoria. "I care for individuals particularly who have the courage of their convictions to speak their mind because they are the flagbearers of freedom. And I don't care what their views are -- I admire their courage because they dare speak their views."
The RCMP charged Ahenakew, the former Assembly of First Nations (AFN) chief, with public incitement of hatred for remarks in December 2002. At a conference of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), Ahenakew told then-StarPhoenix reporter James Parker that Adolf Hitler was right to kill Jews during the Second World War Holocaust.
"The Jews damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war," Ahenakew stated in the taped interview. "That's why he fried six million of those guys, you know. Jews would have owned the goddamned world."
The comments, while offensive to some, are not an intentional promotion of hatred as required for prosecution under the Criminal Code, said Christie.
"Clearly, a single speech by an individual in an emotional state cannot carry the inference of intention to promote hatred," he said. "It might express hatred but it's very dubious that it would have the intention to promote hatred, particularly when it's denied. And it's not illegal to express hatred, I might add."
Three days after his remarks were first published in The StarPhoenix, Ahenakew issued a tearful apology on national television. But in October 2003, Ahenakew pleaded not guilty. He also suggested during a magazine interview in 2003 that one race controls the world media, referring to the Jews.
Christie's past clients include former SS guard and convicted murderer Michael Seifert and Holocaust deniers Ernst Zundel and James Keegstra. Christie's esteem for people who broach matters that challenge society applies to every one of those clients, he said.
"I try very hard to explain what my motives are but that's what they are -- defending the right to free speech," he said. "I've come to realize that in order to avoid vilification of individuals, freedom is essential, so people can decide for themselves, without an intermediate filter, what they think of an individual.
"People have a tough time separating that from their own opinions, especially when they aren't particularly tolerant themselves, you know? They think they're liberals but they never tolerate different opinions than their own."
Christie, himself, is an outspoken individual and longtime separatist. He has travelled Western Canada in an attempt to drum up support for the Western Block Party and force a vote on uniting Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia as a country apart from Canada.
"There's a great dichotomy in the liberal mind: They like freedom for liberals but for anyone else, heavens no. That's what we have hate law for," Christie said.
As a result of his remarks, Ahenakew resigned from his position as a senator for the FSIN and from posts on several other boards and commissions. He was also rejected as a candidate for a federally funded aboriginal commission because the controversy over his remarks would have overshadowed the committee's purpose. There have been calls for his Order of Canada to be revoked, while an Edmonton man who survived the Holocaust offered to buy Ahenakew a one-way ticket to the former Nazi death camp in Auschwitz.
Both the FSIN and Ahenakew blamed the media for blowing things out of proportion. Outside the provincial courthouse when the trial date was set last November, Ahenakew told reporters he looked forward to his day in court, saying, "It's been a hard life for me over the last two years as a result of some of the way (the press) played it."
"I've met David Ahenakew and I respect him as a Native leader and I like him as a person. The picture that emerged from the media is very seldom, with all due respect, very seldom close to the real person," said Christie. "Mr. Ahenakew is a very intelligent and a very sensitive man."
Christie could not say whether his client will take the witness stand during the trial.
"That depends on him. I'll be advising him as the trial progresses what I think may or may not be required. But he will make that decision on his own," Christie said. "I can advise him but I cannot make those decisions. Whether we call a defence at all will depend on what emerges at the close of the Crown's case.
"I haven't had a preliminary hearing (to determine whether a trial is even necessary) and I'm not going to get one so I don't know what the Crown is preparing. The Crown, of course, pretends to make disclosure and they throw a bunch of paper at you and say, 'There, you've had disclosure.' But they don't tell you the people behind the paper and they don't tell you the paper that isn't there.
"We have to move into these battles with a flexible, open mind and react when the situation emerges."
Crown prosecutor Brent Klause said his case has been ready since late 2003. He has six witnesses under subpoena, including a rabbi, but Parker and the taped interview will be the "stars," Klause said.
"We have to prove that he (Ahenakew) intended to wilfully promote hatred and I think the evidence speaks for itself," said Klause. "The conference Mr. Ahenakew was at had nothing to do with this subject matter -- he raised it himself. He was way off the topic but wanted to talk about it."
The Crown's case could be entirely presented within a single day but it is likely the trial, by judge alone, will last a week.
SASKATOON - David Ahenakew issued an abject apology on Tuesday. He says he's sorry for comments he made last week praising Hitler and the Holocaust.
The former head of Canada's most influential native rights group apologized and also resigned as head of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations senate. David Ahenakew
Ahenakew had little choice but to face up to the controversy he stirred with his remarks.
A crush of reporters and aboriginal people crowded into a Saskatoon hotel to hear Ahenakew's apology.
It was emotional and filled with regret.
"I want to extend my most sincere apologies to members of the Jewish community, to the Holocaust survivors and your families. Such comments have no excuse," he said.
He also apologized to the other minorities he insulted and to Canada's aboriginal people for causing such embarrassment.
The former head of the Assembly of First Nations and Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations made the comments to a reporter for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, after a profanity-laced speech last Friday.
Ahenakew said he did not believe in the views he expressed last week.
"I was caught up in the heat of the moment. I was attempting to spark debate on what has been happening to our First Nations people," he said.
He said the comments were made in anger and frustration over the plight of native people in Canada. But he said that did not excuse his remarks.
FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde said he accepted Ahenakew's apology and that the native organization also voted to formally apologize for Ahenakew's comments. Perry Bellegarde
"We were all deeply saddened by them," he said. "We know what racism is."
Bellegarde said the organization will soon begin some form of discussions with the Jewish community, "just to make sure our communities come together and share."
Canadian Jewish Congress president Keith Landy called Ahenakew's apology a "positive gesture," but stopped short of accepting it.
Former CJC president Irving Abella was not prepared to forgive Ahenakew. "He really did not get into the sorts of things that caused him to say what he said," Abella said.
"The comments he made originally were so vile, so reprehensible, so monstrous, so odious that I think it will require much more than a written apology."
While many are asking how a native leader could hold such racist views, one person who knows him say Ahenakew has thought this way for years. Irving Abella
Doug Cuthand used to work with the the native leader and says Ahenakew believes what he said.
"I've heard him say this stuff before. He knew I was appalled by it, and I thought he was just trying to get a shock response. Over the years I've found that he really does believe it," said Cuthand.
To make amends, Ahenakew is bowing out of public life.
But the native statesman's problems aren't over yet. The Saskatchewan government still wants the RCMP to see if Ahenakew broke Canada's hate crime laws.
Abella is also calling for Ahenakew to be stripped of his Order of Canada.
Congregation Agudas Israel and the Saskatoon Lodge of B'nai Brith Canada are shocked and saddened by the recent remarks of Mr. David Ahenakew, a senator and former leader of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).
His racist and anti-Semitic comments were made on Friday, December 13 during an address to a FSIN conference in Saskatoon. The following press release was immediately sent to the media:
"Mr. Ahenakew's comments have created a profound sense of dismay and disgust within our community", said Susanne Kaplan, president of Congregation Agudas Israel, "particularly in light of our historical relationship with the aboriginal community, and the fact that Jewish and aboriginal people share a common history of persecution, bigotry and racism.
While Mr. Ahenakew's remarks were directed predominantly at Jews, we would like to acknowledge and extend our support to other groups that were also offended and attacked by Mr. Ahenakew."
"We acknowledge that chief Bellegarde has disassociated the FSIN from Mr. Ahenakew's remarks, and are encouraged by his declared intent to meet with the Saskatchewan Jewish community" said Briane Scharfstein, president of Saskatoon B'nai Brith.
"We hope and trust that the FSIN will respond appropriately in the near future". In the meantime, many Jewish and non- Jewish families, including aboriginals, are left bewildered and uncertain of how to explain this unexpected and extreme example of racist commentary from a previously respected aboriginal leader.