What ever happened to ... Jim Keegstra.

AuthorBowal, Peter
PositionSpecial Report: Testing the Limits of Law


This is not my battle anymore. It's the battle of everyone who loves freedom. Anyone who is against me is against freedom of speech.

--Jim Keegstra


Our law does not regulate expressions of desire or love. The same applies to the full range of other emotions such as rage, melancholy or euphoria. Even malicious lies and deceits largely pass without legal redress--and prosecutions where they can cause palpable harm--such as for misleading advertising and perjury are rare.

On the other hand, publicly stating anything that wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group can dispatch one to jail for two years with a criminal record. The issue of whether this crime unjustifiably limits our freedom of expression enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would invariably reach the Supreme Court of Canada.

R. v. Keegstra was such a landmark freedom of expression case that aspects of this issue were considered in three separate trips to the Supreme Court of Canada between 1990 and 1996. In the end, a closely divided Court upheld the crime of promoting hatred as a reasonable limit on expression. However, the case also generated intense debate on free expression and whether we can, and should, realistically control hate speech.


In the summer of 1983, Canadians learned that a public high school social studies teacher in the small central Alberta town of Eckville had for years been teaching of a Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. In his class, he described Jews as "gutter rats" and "money thugs" who were simultaneously in control of capitalism, socialism and communism in a plot to destroy the Christian way of life. (1) He described Jews as "treacherous," "subversive," "sadistic," "money-loving," "power hungry" and "child killers." Jim Keegstra taught his students that Jews were to blame for historical calamities such as depressions, anarchy, wars, chaos and revolution. He did not advocate violence.

Keegstra had taught industrial arts, social studies, law, mathematics and science to both junior high and senior high classes at Eckville. He was well liked by students and staff, and he was regarded as an effective classroom manager and teacher.

Keegstra's own brand of history was received with general complacency for about a decade. Despite rumours and some complaints over the years of what went on in Keegstra's social studies class, little was done to investigate and discipline him. He was also the town's mayor and an auto mechanic. It was not until a visit from a new school district superintendent in December 1981, in response to a complaint from a parent over the anti-Semitic content of his son's essay, that the matter began to be taken more seriously. Keegstra was warned at that time to cease teaching the Jewish conspiracy as fact. On December 7, 1982, Keegstra was terminated from his teaching position after he failed to comply with that directive. He then lost his membership in the Alberta Teachers Association and his 14-year teaching certificate was...

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