A Zündel Editorial:

"A Book Is Not a Tree, and a Website Is Not A Telephone!"

Once again, my political opponents saw fit to haul me before yet another government body - this time the Canadian Human Rights Commission - to defend myself at great expense and inconvenience for things I say and write that have been deemed my right, according to the Highest Court in Canada. (Supreme Court decision, August 27, 1992)

While I will pay my way, as I have done before, the taxpayers of Canada will pay, as they have done before, for the political monkeyshines of my opposition, the Holocaust Promotion Lobby of Canada.

Their absurd claim, this time, is that a California-based website, called the Zundelsite, is ". . . like a telephone."

Some thoughts on Article 13

Article 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act forbids the communication of messages over telephones that could be construed as defamatory or inciting to hatred of any particular group. Specifically, the article was designed to limit the use of pre-recorded telephone messages which the Act might deem "defamatory", "inciting to hatred", or "offensive to a particular group".

It should be obvious that the Act on its face is a gross violation of any concept of Free Speech or Free Expression. Since my opponents may characterize any of my speech as defamatory at any time, it follows that the free speech of the whole must be subordinated to the complaints of the group.

Taken to its extreme, the equitable application of this Act would result in the ban all public communication. Of course, in the event we do not expect it to reach that far, because in the end the judiciary is allowed to decide which groups may have legitimate complaints.

Therefore we have two inhibitors of Free Expression and Free Speech in Canada: any group, which by its vocal criticism and energy may silence any or all other groups, and a small group of judges, who are now given the right to determine for all other Canadians what speech will and will not be protected.

The perniciousness of Article 13 underlies everything else involved with my case. The public minds of Canadians are vitiated and emasculated by this law. It ensures that in the private minds of Canadians the conviction will grow that small groups and the judiciary are depriving them of their freedom and human dignity. Because private, such thoughts will grow like weeds.

Because not allowed to be public, such thoughts will never be tested in the marketplace of ideas. Because private, the individual Canadian will become alienated from his State, its Laws, and its institutions. Because not allowed to be public, the individual Canadian will come to associate the regaining of his or her public freedom with the acting out against those who proscribe free speech.

In a word, this Act does not serve the best interests of Canada or the Canadian people. In fact, it will directly encourage and foster -- far beyond the reach of the Law -- a separation of the Canadian people from their Nation.

This Act only serves to further the interests of those whose ultimate aim is the dissolution of Canada altogether.

A computer is not a telephone

The limitation on telephonic speech itemized above is very clear to its object. The question is whether Internet web sites, insofar as they use telephone technology, are subject to the same limitations as telephonic speech.

It should be obvious at first glance that one does not -- at the present state of technology -- use web sites in the same manner as one uses telephones. The receipt of a voice message is passive. One dials a number, and one listens.

Web sites are different. In the first place, they are printed forms of communication, not verbal forms of communication. This alone constitutes a fundamental distinction in the medium, and it also constitutes a fundamental difference in the manner in which it should be protected.

Print speech has always been granted greater freedom and latitude than verbal speech, simply because of the intermediary levels of individual thinking required to the reading as opposed to the listening process. The decipherment of the printed word is an active process on the part of the reader, not passive as in listening or viewing. Reading thus involves the interaction of the reader with the text: this is also confirmed by all recent literary theory.

Two other concepts are related to this. Because of the web site manner of transmitting information involves above all the printed word, its reading is ultimately an individual and private process. This is another facet of the protections given printed speech as opposed to the spoken word.

An individual may be forced to hear words spoken in public that he or she may not want to hear. But, absent billboards, no one will ever be forced to read anything they do not want to read. To argue that a book, or a web site, is capable of public offense is simply not possible. A book, and a web site, can only be read one at a time by one individual at a time. Web sites are not on show in some public place. They have no voice. They are not even visible unless a reader chooses to call them up on a screen.

For these reasons, it is wrong to characterize web sites as billboards, as has been done on occasion. They are in fact simply books, and the Internet is the library that contains them. One can choose to read this or that book, because reading is a private and protected activity. Similarly, one should be able to choose to read this or that web site.

This comparison of the Internet to a library, and web sites to books, is a comparison that will become clearer in future decades. We already know that more and more information databases are being transcribed to the Web. More and more books are being transcribed to the Web. We can foresee a day, not too long distant, when virtually all reading will be conducted off a computer screen. If the Canadian Human Rights Commission takes the extraordinary step and decides that private reading is a public act, we have not only established a precedent that we shall surely rue some day, we have also implicitly denied the right of privacy altogether.

There is also the matter of cost. If a man or woman is unable to afford many books, then he or she must use a library or even inter-library loan in order to read. But we do not, because they use a public agency, attempt to limit their intellectual inquiry, decide their reading lists, or invade their privacy. Similarly, insofar as the web site reader uses a public access means, that is, telephone lines, or the Internet, that does not give the Commonwealth the right to interfere with his or her intellectual growth. Recognizing that only the wealthiest people can afford hard copy books of all the things they might want to read, yet website content costs virtually nothing to people who wish to read it, we can see that regulation of Internet reading lists would be ultimately discriminatory to the poor of all races and condition.

To say that, because telephone technology is employed, that web sites should be regulated as telephones ignores not only the fundamental distinction between print and verbal media but also confuses a genetic relationship with a functional one. Web sites are nothing more than small printing presses. That their mode of transmission involves telephone lines does not make them telephones. Certainly, we know that books use paper, and paper is made out of trees, but we do not say that a book is a tree.

The second main point derived from the interaction of the reader and the text involves a level of communication and interactivity that transcends mere books and transcends also the one-way transmission of recorded telephone messages.

If one reads a book, or an article, one can always communicate with the author or publisher. Conventionally, this can be cumbersome. ("Where does the author live?") But one of the benefits of the Internet is that communications are greatly facilitated. Thanks to e-mail hyperlinks, communications between reader and writer can become almost immediate. Also, the contents of a web site can be transmitted among other readers and shared freely among a reading list that might comprise hundreds or thousands of people. Under such circumstances the web site represents not merely a book in a library, but a book privately printed and distributed to a list of subscribers - for free! Surely the Human Rights Commission or the government of Canada would not want to infringe on the right of free association, or book subscription?

Specifically, the claim will be made when I appear before the Court of Inquisition of the Canadian Human Rights Commission on May 26 that web sites are not interactive, but rather passive billboards "spewing hate". As a result, some claim, web sites are only entitled to exist if they engage in "open debate" in some kind of forum with other web sites - that is to say, other books.

This characterization, too, is utterly false in practice. People do not read billboards at home, nor do they read their computers in the town square. Web sites are virtual books, not billboards. If we deny Canadians the free and open access to web sites of all types, then we may as well drop the pretense and burn all of our books at once. It takes choice and some inconvenience to access a website. If a billboard is lying flat on a roof and you have to climb to the top of the roof and stand on a ladder to read it, it isn't a billboard.

Since the characterization is false, the proposed resolution is also false. To say that web sites must engage in "interactivity" involving "open debate" is to say that books we do not like must have objections scribbled in the margin. Part of free speech means allowing the integrity of the utterance.
Fair play requires that we allow a man or woman to speak their mind. An article, a book, and a web page are no different.

The response to books we do not like is to write our own books. It is not to require or demand equal time in the book itself, or to insist that the author of a book defend his or her views in a public forum. The marketplace of ideas is no less needful of freedom than the market economy. If a merchant sells a product no one wants, he may not blame his fellow merchant who is slowly and confidently building up a client base. Any attempt to limit the practice of the more successful and, frankly, more adept, businessman would be seen right through for the collectivist envy that it is.

So too with websites. If we seek to shut down those web sites whose ideas we do not like, we are shamefacedly admitting that our ideas have no moral or material worth whatsoever, and that no one will buy them. We admit we wish to use the power of the state and the Canadian taxpayer's money to shut down the competition, and force people to buy what we are selling. But the fact of the matter is that competition is not the reason no one is buying: people just do not buy things that are empty and worthless. That goes for me - and also for my opposition.

The whole concept of free speech, as it has evolved in the English speaking world, is that if all are allowed to speak freely, then the collective voice, as though guided by an invisible hand, will in the end speak the truth, and will ring in tones that will redound to the benefit of all people. We tamper with that principle, in the interest of small and petty grievances, to our great peril.

Ernst Zündel