Controversial far-right figures Paul Fromm and Monika Schaefer were in Sidney on Friday, Jan. 25, for a fundraising and speaking engagement, as part of a discrete 11-stop, cross-country tour.
Schaefer is a former Green Party candidate from Alberta, who recently served a 10-month sentence in Germany for Holocaust denial, which is classed as a hate crime there.
Fromm is one of Canada’s most prominent far-right figures and the executive director of the group who organized the tour – the Canadian Association for Free Expression (CAFE).
Fromm describes himself as a conservative, but his ideology has been labelled ‘neo-Nazi’ by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which monitors extremists in North America.
The main topics of the lecture in Sidney regarded Schaefer’s experiences in prison, freedom of speech and her political beliefs. Wary of disruption by potential protesters and to maintain discretion, the talk was not advertised and attendees were invited through CAFE’s subscription newsletter and email service. It is believed between six and 12 people attended.
Schaefer has visited the Saanich Peninsula before for her political activities and a meeting with supporters was cancelled with short notice on June 18, 2016.
Gordon Watson, a local supporter, said the venue cancelled that talk the day before, once it discovered who would be speaking. When attendees turned up on the day of the talk, they were turned away by officers from the Central Saanich Police Department and RCMP.
Since then, Schaefer has made three trips to Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula to meet with supporters. Schaefer, who has talked openly of her admiration for Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, now styles herself as a free-speech activist who believes no topic should be off-limits in public discourse, no matter if it can be interpreted as hateful.
Germany is not alone in placing restrictions on speech. Canada’s Human Rights Act and Criminal Code designate hate speech as a prosecutable crime and individuals have been convicted, going back as far as the in 1990.
Regarding ‘hatred’, former Supreme Court Justice Marshall Rothstein wrote in 2013 that, “In my view, ‘detestation’ and ‘vilification’ aptly describe the harmful effect that the Code seeks to eliminate.”
Fromm and Schaefer dispute that their ideas are hateful and are convinced Canadian society is in an “existential struggle” that is “at war without the bombs.” They claim they are peaceful activists and do not seek physical confrontation. However, Fromm warns that if groups like CAFE are restricted in expressing their views, more extreme elements might take their place.
“When you silence the man with the pen, you make way for the man with the sword,” he said.
Schaefer agreed, “they force you to, in the end, not me personally, but in the end that is what’s going to happen.”
Schaefer said she received 1,250 letters from supporters around the world while in jail and that her anti-Semitic beliefs in hidden global conspiracies have “hardened” since her release, and she now considers her current and future activism as her life’s work.
Central Saanich Police Deputy Chief Derren Lench said if officers received information that a talk that breached the Civil Code was happening they would, “investigate it like any criminal offence and whether it was a potential hate crime.”
He added, they would then work together with different agencies and decide how to proceed.