SASKATOON — A Saskatoon judge acquitted former aboriginal leader David Ahenakew Monday of wilfully promoting hatred against Jews.
The former head of the Assembly of First Nations was charged after a controversial speech and subsequent interview with a reporter more than six years ago. In the interview he called them a “disease” and appeared to justify the Holocaust.
Provincial court Judge Wilfred Tucker said the comments were disgusting but he didn’t believe Ahenakew intended to promote hatred.
It was the second trial for Ahenakew on the charge. He was found guilty the first time and fined $1,000. But the conviction was overturned on appeal and a new trial was ordered.
The 75-year-old testified at his second trial that he doesn’t hate Jews but still believes they caused the war.
His controversial comments date back to December 2002, when he delivered a rambling and fiery speech during a health conference organized by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations in Saskatoon.
During the speech, Ahenakew blamed Jews for causing the Second World War. A newspaper reporter later asked him to clarify his comments.
“How do you get rid of a disease like that, that’s going to take over, that’s going to dominate?” Ahenakew responded. “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.”
Amid public outrage, Ahenakew lost his position as a senator with the Saskatchewan First Nations group. Following his initial conviction, he was also stripped of his Order of Canada.
Ahenakew testified at his most recent trial that he doesn’t hate Jews.
“Everybody says I’m a Jew-hater,” he told court. “I don’t hate the Jews, but I hate what they do to people.”
His defence lawyer, Doug Christie, argued Ahenakew got sucked into an argument with the reporter and did not intend for his spontaneous comments to be published.
Crown prosecutor Sandeep Bains told the court Ahenakew knew what he was doing and clearly consented to the media interview.