A trial is underway in Canada.
It’s a most curious trial. Or perhaps it’s just ‘normal’, in this phase of human history that just gets “curiouser and curiouser“.
The defendant is David Ahenakew, a 75 year-old First Nation leader, previously honoured with the Order of Canada for his service over many decades to his people and Canada as a whole. In Australia, the word ‘Aboriginal’ is typically used for our indigenous people. In Australian lingo, David Ahenakew is a respected Aboriginal elder and leader.
He is on trial for “willfully promoting hatred”.
What did he say? Did he, perhaps, offend the millions of mainly fair-skinned invaders of his land, who over the last few hundred years pushed his people to cultural extinction in many parts of Canada? Did he call for a war of extinguishment against the invaders? Did he incite a First Nation attack on Ottawa?
No. His alleged offense is more specific. He is accused of willfully promoting hatred against ‘the Jews’. He stands accused of breaching Canadian laws that criminalize ‘hate speech’. In effect, this Aboriginal leader is accused of persecuting other people – with his words (not deeds) – even though he’s a survivor of the shattered remnants of the original Canadians who has put in a lifetime’s effort into remedying disadvantages still suffered by his own disposessed community.
It’s difficult not to wince at the irony.
To be precise, the trial currently underway is Ahenakew’s second trial – for the same offense. He was found guilty in 2005. The Chronicle-Herald reports:
“After he was convicted at his first trial, he was removed from the Order of Canada — an extremely rare occurrence. The conviction was overturned on appeal and the Crown elected to retry him rather than take the case to the Supreme Court.”
So… he’s being re-tried for the same alleged crime? I thought that was ‘double jeopardy’, defined by Wikipedia as: “a procedural defense (and, in many countries such as the United States, Canada, Mexico and India, a constitutional right) that forbids that a defendant be tried twice for the same crime on the same set of facts.”? Oh well, yet another reason we can’t rely on Wikipedia, I guess?
You may think that the Canadian Government is pursuing the case again because Ahenakew is unrepentant? Apparently not. According to Canada’s Leader-Post he issued a tearful apology shortly after a reporter’s expose of his comments provoked a national mass media furore. Neverthless, the Leader-Post reports:
Defence lawyer Doug Christie’s attempt to enter the apology as evidence was denied Friday morning by Judge Wilfred Tucker. Tucker cited as the reasons for denying the request the fact that it would go against the hearsay rule of evidence, and also that the apology was written by Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) staff and approved by a lawyer, so it was not a spontaneous apology; Ahenakew had testified to those facts on Friday.
Let’s see if I’ve got this straight?
The Canadian taxpayer is funding a second ‘hate crime’ court case against a 75-year old indigenous leader over remarks for which he’s long ago apologized. The apology he proffered won’t even be allowed as evidence in his second trial. The second trial is proceeding because the Government prefers a re-trial to appealing his previous, successful appeal.
Does any of this sound a tad illiberal to you? Is it just me who thinks this is absurdity writ large?
Ahenakew, animated the beginning of the day, grew weary and often mixed up words and went off topic with his testimony. Christie asked him several times to focus on his questions.
Ahenakew said he hasn’t slept much because his wife is in the hospital and being in court again is a hurtful reminder of the mistake he made.
“I apologized for my mistake,” said Ahenakew. “If that’s not good enough, I can’t do any more than that.”
By now you are probably imagining that this man must be guilty of very serious thought crime indeed. Perhaps he is a (gasp) ‘Holocaust Denier’? After all, everyone has heard of the tribulations of so-called ‘Holocaust Deniers’. The Holocaust is clearly an exceptionally touchy issue, for reasons we are discouraged from querying.
But no, apparently not. Mr Ahenakew doesn’t even seem to doubt the key elements of the contemporary, mainstream Holocaust narrative (although he adds some extra elements of his own). Here’s a direct quote from the previously-cited Chronicle Herald report:
“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.”
Newstalk 650 has a fascinating brief account of the trial:
David Ahenakew has finished testifying at his hate crimes trial, and now it’s onto closing arguments.
Friday morning Ahenakew was crossed examined by Crown Prosecutor Sandeep Bains. Bains delved into Ahenakew’s feelings towards Jews. Getting him to admit post war immigrants living near his Reserve in Saskatchewan told him Jews “owned a lot of things.” That he had never heard of the Holocaust when he joined the Army in the 1950’s. Bains then questioned Ahenakew about being in BC after the Korean War. Ahenakew said Second World War veterans told him that if it wasn’t for the Jews, the war never would have started. Under questioning Ahenakew went on saying that while stationed in post war Germany, Germans told him the Jews started Second World War. But when asked by Bains if he started believing that, Ahenakew answered “I never believed that. I don’t hate people, you (Bains) or anybody else.”
But later on Bains asked Ahenakew, “It’s your contention Jews are causing a lot of problems?” To which Ahenakew answered, “In the world, yes.”
Bains then turned to the actual day Ahenakew and then Star Phoenix reporter James Parker spoke. He asked Ahenakew if Parker wanted to talk about the conference, then he would have wanted that in the paper? Ahenakew answered yes. Bains then asked, “So you were prepared for everything to go into the paper? Ahenakew answered “No, no, no.”
Closing arguments are Friday afternoon.
The case has similarities with the attempted media-mugging of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone by a provocative reporter a few years back. But Livingstone, a wily politician, chose words with precision following his initial incautious remarks, after he was ambushed leaving a party. He fought back successfully, although he also lost the next Mayoral election.
By his own admission, Mr Ahenakew did not choose his words well. His reported remarks are undoubtably contentious. He was unwise talking to a hostile reporter on this minefield of a topic.
Yet had Ahenakew made equally derogatory comments about Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims, it’s hard to imagine he’d be where he is today. Suppose, like fellow-Canadian David Frum, his ‘crime’ was to invent a war-promoting catch-phrase that could be used to start at least one illegal war. In that event, he might well be at home, putting his feet up, enjoying the generous proceeds from his latest pro-Israel ‘op-ed’ in one of Canada’s major newspapers.
That, I imagine, is the intended take-home message for indigenous leaders, historians and anyone else who is who is paying attention.
Be very, very careful what you say about Jewish people and Jewish history.
Incidentally, it‘s reported that the radicalizing experience for Ahenakew was a visit to Gaza in 1964. The Chronicle Herald says:
Ahenakew recalled for the court how he was peacekeeping in the Gaza Strip, the coastal piece of land bordering Egypt and Israel, in 1964 and trying to maintain fences where landmines were killing children.
He told the judge he believed the Israelis kept taking down the fences.
“I thought it was unjust. I thought it was cruel.”
Ahenakew testified that the fences reminded him of his own people living on reservations and brought up a lot of emotion in him.
He said the experience helped him decide to leave the military in 1967. His new purpose was to make a difference for First Nations people in Saskatchewan. He became a leader with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and eventually was named national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
So, Ahenakew was shocked by what he saw in Gaza in 1964. One dreads to think how he’d cope with a visit to Gaza in late 2008. He might blow ten fuses at once! It seems this man has a conscience, like some other elderly notables: Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu to name but three.
According to the Star-Phoenix, whose reporter James Parker first brought Ahenakew’s words to national attention:
David Ahenakew will wait until Feb. 23 to find out if he is guilty of inciting hatred in connection with a 2002 speech and interview in which he said Jews started the Second World War and compared them to a disease.
Will he be guilty or not? We’ll have to wait and see.
Here’s a reasonable bet.
Debra Cagan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Coalition Affairs to US Defence Secretary Robert Gates will NOT be arraigned for hate crimes anywhere soon in any jurisdiction, despite this report in the British Daily Mail:
Britsh MPs visiting the Pentagon to discuss America’s stance on Iran and Iraq were shocked to be told by one of President Bush’s senior women officials: ‘I hate all Iranians.’
It seems there’s not enough hate to go round to take warmongers like Cagan to court for their blatantly hateful words.
I’m one of the people who can’t hate enough to do that. I agree. Words don’t kill. Bullets and bombs do kill.
That’s why – for starters – the entire Israeli leadership should face a war crimes tribunal.
The case can commence with war crimes committed at the expense of Gazans (ongoing) and the 2006 assault on The Lebanon. There’s plenty more to get into later.
People should be held accountable for what they do. What they say is a second order issue.
Words are easily fumbled under pressure and can be clarified, retracted and become the subject of apology.
Murder is forever.