A Zündel Editorial:
"A Book Is Not a Tree, and a Website Is Not
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.