Spy agency reprimanded for accusing group of firebombing Zundel's house

Credibility of anti-racists harmed: lawyer

Monday, November 22, 1999 | National Post

Jim Bronskill Southam News

OTTAWA - The national spy watchdog has chastised the Canadian Security Intelligence Service for wrongly implicating an anti-racist group in firebombing the home of Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel.

In a confidential report, the Security Intelligence Review Committee forcefully reminded CSIS to respect "the basic principles of fairness and justice" when conducting investigations.

The committee's report, obtained by Southam News, also advised the spy agency that adverse allegations "should be supported by facts."

The episode began in February, 1996, when two CSIS agents, identifying themselves as Peter and Angela, visited Michael Rothe, a Kitchener, Ont. businessman.

Early in the interview, Mr. Rothe pointed at a video camera, indicating he was taping the exchange.

Mr. Rothe told CSIS that people had shut down his store and broken a window.

The first CSIS agent, Peter, began asking Mr. Rothe about Anti-Racist Action, a group that had staged numerous rallies to oppose white supremacists.

The second CSIS officer, Angela, interjected that "one of the problems that we've also had with the ARA as Peter was describing is that they've gone and they've firebombed ... you know... and Zundel, I'm sure you've heard about the problems that he has, some of the various leaders of the so-called right-wing group have received firebombs."

In early 1997, ARA's Toronto chapter learned the taped remarks were being quoted by a fringe right-wing group as evidence the anti-racists had perpetrated the May, 1995, firebombing of Mr. Zundel's residence.

Inquiries to CSIS by Clayton Ruby, ARA-Toronto's lawyer, failed to elicit further information about the mysterious tape. ARA then took its case to the review committee, an independent body that investigates complaints about CSIS activities and makes recommendations to the government.

Mr. Ruby accused CSIS of a "slanderous falsehood" that had been used to discredit the anti-racist group's work. Mr. Ruby cited eight examples of how Mr. Zundel or others had quoted from the videotaped interview in attempts to attack ARA's credibility.

The committee, which treats complaints confidentially, conducted a closed-door hearing into the matter in July, 1997.

ARA-Toronto argued that another group -- completely unrelated to ARA -- had publicly claimed to have firebombed Mr. Zundel's home.

The CSIS agent who made the comments told the hearing she didn't intend to suggest ARA had attacked Mr. Zundel's residence.

Committee chairwoman Paule Gauthier, who heard the complaint, said in her October, 1997, report on the case that the CSIS agent, regardless of whether she was referring to the Zundel incident, had alleged ARA involvement in a firebombing.

"Taking into consideration the fact that the service was not in a position to substantiate such a statement, I am troubled by this allegation," Ms. Gauthier wrote.

"I recommend that in interviews conducted by the service, CSIS officers act with prudence, professionalism, and with due regard for the basic principles of fairness and justice," she concluded.

"Interview techniques should always be placed in the proper context and any adverse allegations about groups or individuals should be supported by facts."

However, the scolding from the committee does not appear to have dampened CSIS interest in the anti-racist movement. The service's 1997-98 report to the federal solicitor-general noted CSIS investigations of potentially violent individuals who fight racism.

A November, 1998, intelligence brief, obtained under the Access to Information Act, prepared by the service says "extremist elements within the Canadian anti-racist milieu continue to demonstrate a willingness to promote violence in defence of their political agenda and to organize actions against racists."