Ahenakew’s new trial on hate-crime charge to start

The case against disgraced former national aboriginal leader David Ahenakew, which has already been a provocative and high-profile test of Canada’s hate-crime laws, is heading back to court on Monday in Saskatoon.

All sides involved are hopeful Mr. Ahenakew’s second trial in connection to anti-Semitic comments he made nearly six years ago will finally settle what constitutes the crime of “willfully promoting hatred” against an identifiable group.

In 2005, the former leader of the Assembly of First Nations was found guilty of the rare criminal charge and fined $1,000. Federal officials later stripped him of his Order of Canada.

The case began on Dec. 13, 2002, after Mr. Ahenakew, 75, made several anti-Semitic comments to an audience in Saskatoon and later to a newspaper reporter. He called Jews a “disease” and blamed them for the Second World War.

Mr. Ahenakew appealed the conviction and it was overturned in 2006. The Crown appealed that decision to the province’s top court.

Earlier this year, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and unanimously ruled that while Mr. Ahenakew’s remarks about Jews were “shocking, brutal and hurtful,” that didn’t mean he broke the law.

However, the Crown was given the option of retrying the case.

Doug Christie, Mr. Ahenakew’s lawyer, said his client didn’t break the law because he never wanted his comments to be widely published. Mr. Christie calls the second trial “vindictive” and a waste of public money.

Steven Silmovitch, national legal counsel to B’nai Brith Canada, said “the case has now gone beyond the question of David Ahenakew. It’s now almost a test-case situation.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081123.wahenakew1124/BNStory/National/home

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