Memorial goes ahead at Toronto library for lawyer who represented far-right extremists
Local politicians and human rights advocates urged library to cancel event honouring Barbara Kulaszka.
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A memorial for a lawyer who counted accused neo-Nazis and white nationalists among her clients went ahead at a Toronto Public Library branch Wednesday evening, despite calls from local politicians and human rights advocates for the library to cancel the event.
“It certainly will discredit the Toronto library system,” said Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, who said he was “stunned” that the library agreed to rent space at its Richview branch in Etobicoke for a memorial in honour of Barbara Kulaszka.
“Barbara Kulaszka was a fellow traveller in hate groups in this country. She provided legal counsel to neo-Nazis, racists and bigots, and in fact ensured, through some of the work that she did, that hate laws and neo-Nazis and even Nazi war criminals would not be prosecuted in this country.
“Her legacy, if she has one, is one of increasing and permitting hatred in Canada.”
Kulaszka represented some of Canada’s most famous far-right extremists, including German-born Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, who was deported back to his home country in 2005 after a Canadian judge deemed him a security threat. Zundel was later sentenced to five years in German prison in 2007.
The lawyer also worked for Paul Fromm, a self-proclaimed white nationalist, who organized the event Wednesday night. She represented Marc Lemire, who used to be part of the Canadian neo-Nazi group Heritage Front.
Kulaszka, 64, died from lung cancer on June 15, according to the Canadian Association for Free Expression website which posted about the event.
A library spokesperson said they’ve heard the concerns about Wednesday’s event “loud and clear,” and was taking them very seriously.
But the library couldn’t deny the booking because it didn’t contravene any laws, said Ana-Maria Critchley, the Toronto Public Library’s manager of stakeholder relations.
Library staff were in the room monitoring the event for any racism or discrimination and ready to intervene, she said.
Fromm, a spokesperson for the Canadian Association for Free Expression, said he doesn’t understand the controversy and called those who pushed for its cancellation, free speech opponents.
“I think this is really, really sad that some people would take it upon themselves to shut down a meeting, a memorial,” he said.
Fromm described as Kulaszka as “a very quiet, dedicated woman.”
While media were not allowed inside the event, one attendee said there were about 25 people inside the room.
Max French, who attended the event and said he had helped on Zundel’s Holocaust denial cases, said “it was a fitting tribute to a great woman.”
“There was no Holocaust denial going on in there, and if there was, what of it?,” he said.
No one in the room had ties to neo-Nazi groups, French added. But one man who attended was wearing a Blood and Honour T-shirt, a neo-Nazi music promotion group.
Farber said one silver lining of the whole thing has been the united response from multicultural organizations across the city calling for the event to be cancelled and expressing their concerns.
Among the emails complaining about the event was one from 89-year-old Nathan Leipciger, a survivor of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.
“My entire family was murdered by Nazi regime and I was outraged when I learned that a number of white nationalist leaders, including Paul Fromm and Marc Lemire, have rented space at a Toronto Public Library in Etobicoke . . . despite their long record of promoting bigotry and their disturbing ties to the neo-Nazi movement,” he wrote in an email, an excerpt of which was provided to the Star by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
Mayor John Tory, who said he was “deeply concerned” about the event, said his office will ask the library to review its room-booking policies going forward.
While the mayor had asked the library to consider cancelling the event, he was told they’d received legal advice that they couldn’t deny the booking.
Councillor James Pasternak (Ward 10 York Centre), had also called on the library to cancel the booking.
“It is truly shocking that individuals who spread hatred, deny the Holocaust and have ties to neo-Nazi groups are being provided a permit by the Toronto Public Library to host an event inside a public building,” he said.
Critchley, who noted the library only realized who had booked the event Tuesday, said they are going to have a full discussion going forward.
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