Abrams v. North Shore News and Collins, 1999 BCHRT 7

In The Matter of The Human Rights Code

[1] Harry Abrams, the Complainant, is an active member of the Jewish community in Victoria. In the winter of 1993-1994, he began reading a new newspaper, The Daily Victorian, which was delivered free to his home and office. The newspaper carried columns by Doug Collins. Mr. Abrams became concerned about these columns which contained, in his opinion, race-baiting themes including content that vilified Jews (among others). It appeared to him that this content was present in nearly all of Mr. Collins’ columns. Mr. Abrams learned that the columns he was reading were syndicated versions of columns that appeared on a regular basis in the North Shore News newspaper, which is distributed in the communities across from Vancouver on the North Shore of Burrard Inlet.

[2] On May 27, 1994, Mr. Abrams filed human rights complaints alleging that the North Shore Free Press Ltd., doing business as "North Shore News" (the "North Shore News"), Robert H. Howse, doing business as "The Daily Victorian", and Doug Collins published or caused to be published articles that discriminate against Jewish persons and are likely to expose those persons to hatred or contempt on the basis of their race, religion and ancestry, contrary to s. 2 of the Human Rights Act, S.B.C. 1984, c. 22, now s. 7 of the Human Rights Code, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 210 (the "Code"). In particular, he alleged "that the continual barrage of articles written by Mr. Doug Collins promoting his views on Holocaust revisionism and Jewish conspiracies, have a cumulative affect [sic] of promoting hatred and contempt towards Jewish people" (Exhibits 1 and 2).

[3] The Particulars of Allegation refer to four columns in support of the complaints: (a) "News flash! Daily press discovering free speech", published January 12, 1994 in the North Shore News (Appendix 1); (b) "Hollywood propaganda", published in the North Shore News on March 9, 1994 (Appendix 2); (c) "Pondering far better than pandering folks", published in the North Shore News on March 23, 1994 (Appendix 3); and (d) "Some value freedom of the press, some don’t", published in the North Shore News on June 26, 1994 (Appendix 4). Doug Collins wrote all of these columns.

[4] These complaints were initially referred to hearing by the B.C. Council of Human Rights on August 19, 1996. On January 1, 1997, the Council of Human Rights was replaced by the B.C. Human Rights Commission and the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal (the "Tribunal"). Under s. 50(7) of the Code, this matter is deemed to have been referred to the Tribunal for hearing.

[5] The Complainant applied to have these complaints and a complaint which he had filed on behalf of Iranian, Japanese, Chinese and Sikh persons heard together with a complaint made by the Canadian Jewish Congress (the "CJC") against Doug Collins and the North Shore News. The CJC, Mr. Collins and the North Shore News opposed the application. On March 13, 1997, I decided that the complaints should not be heard together: Canadian Jewish Congress v. North Shore Free Press Ltd. (No. 3) (1997), 1997 CanLII 24823 (BC HRT), 30 C.H.R.R. D/3. The CJC complaint was subsequently heard and decided by the Tribunal: Canadian Jewish Congress v. North Shore Free Press Ltd. (No. 7) (1997), 1997 BCHRT 35 (CanLII), 30 C.H.R.R. D/5 (the "CJC case").

[6] On January 14, 1998, the Respondents served a Notice of Constitutional Question in this matter alleging that s. 7(1) of the Code infringes s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the "Charter") and is not saved by s. 1 of the Charter or, alternatively, that s. 7(1) of the Code is not a "limit prescribed by law" for the purposes of s. 1 of the Charter. As a result of that Notice, the Attorney General of British Columbia (the "AG") became involved.

[7] On January 19, 1998, the Deputy Chief Commissioner of the B.C. Human Rights Commission (the "DCC") filed a Notice of Intention to Participate in this hearing as a party pursuant to s. 36 of the Code.

[8] The Respondents applied to have those portions of the complaints dealing with constitutional issues, including their challenge to the constitutional validity of s. 7 of the Code, severed from and heard after the merits of the complaint. I allowed the application on April 2, 1998 (see Appendix 5).

[9] These complaints were scheduled to be heard with a complaint made by Mr. Abrams against the North Shore News and Doug Collins on behalf Iranian, Japanese, Chinese and Sikh persons. The Complainant subsequently withdrew that complaint and the Tribunal issued a discontinuance order on May 14, 1998.

[10] The Daily Victorian is no longer in business. Following notification by the Complainant that he was withdrawing his complaint against Robert Howse doing business as The Daily Victorian, the Tribunal issued a discontinuance order on May 22, 1998.

[11] On July 16, 1998, I granted the League for Human Rights of B’Nai Brith Canada limited intervenor status (see Appendix 6).

[12] The hearing into the merits of the complaint commenced on July 20, 1998, with the hearing on the constitutional issues to proceed at a later date, if necessary. At the outset of the hearing, prior to any opening statements, the Respondents informed me that they would not be participating in this portion of the hearing except to introduce written submissions concerning the interpretation of s. 7 of the Code. After providing me with those written submissions, they left the hearing. Although they reserved the right to return to the hearing, they did not do so. As a result of their decision to be absent, the Respondents did not give any opening statements, did not examine or cross-examine witnesses, did not provide any evidence in response to the complaint and, except for the written submissions related to interpretation of the Code, did not present any closing argument. They presented no defence to the complaint. I understand that it is their intention to participate in the second part of the hearing which will deal with their constitutional challenge to the Code.

[13] Section 7 of the Code states as follows:

7. (1) A person must not publish, issue or display, or cause to be published, issued or displayed, any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that

a. indicates discrimination or an intention to discriminate against a person or a group or class of persons, or

b. is likely to expose a person or a group of persons to hatred or contempt

because of the race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation or age of that person or group of persons.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a private communication or to a communication intended to be private.

At the hearing, the Complainant withdrew those portions of the complaint based on s. 7(1)(a) of the Code.