Ahenakew: "I don't hate jews, only what they do to people"
Updated Thu. Nov. 27 2008 5:52 PM ET
The Canadian Press
SASKATOON -- A former aboriginal leader on trial for wilfully promoting hatred has testified that he doesn't hate Jews, only "what they do to people."
David Ahenakew took the stand in his own defence Thursday and said his feelings about Jews developed when he was serving with the Canadian military in the Middle East.
"Everybody says 'I'm a Jew-hater,"' he said. "I don't hate the Jews, but I hate what they do to people."
This is the second trial for Ahenakew, 75. It's alleged that he promoted hatred against Jews during a speech and subsequent interview with a Saskatoon reporter in 2002.
Ahenakew recalled for the court how he was peacekeeping in the Gaza Strip, the coastal piece of land bordering Egypt and Israel, in 1964 and trying to maintain fences where landmines were killing children.
He told the judge he believed the Israelis kept taking down the fences.
"I thought it was unjust. I thought it was cruel."
Ahenakew testified that the fences reminded him of his own people living on reservations and brought up a lot of emotion in him.
He said the experience helped him decide to leave the military in 1967. His new purpose was to make a difference for First Nations people in Saskatchewan. He became a leader with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and eventually was named chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
But his career went off the rails in 2002.
During a fiery speech at a Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations health conference, Ahenakew complained about bigotry in Canada and blamed the Jews for causing the Second World War. A reporter later asked him to clarify his comments and Ahenakew suggested that the Holocaust was justified.
"How do you get rid of a disease like that, that's going to take over, that's going to dominate?" Ahenakew told the reporter. "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."
Ahenakew later made a tearful apology but he lost his position as a senator with the federation.
He was convicted at his first trial and the nationwide outrage provoked by his comments led to his removal from the Order of Canada -- an extremely rare occurrence. The conviction was overturned on appeal and the Crown elected to retry him rather than take the case to the Supreme Court.
Ahenakew testified Thursday he still has the Order of Canada medal at home.
"They told me to turn it in. Why don't you come and get the damn thing?"
Ahenakew's daughter, Shirley Bighead, told the court earlier that her father's accomplishments for aboriginal people cannot be erased by the controversial three-minute interview.
"It's been an ongoing nightmare for the past six years," she said. "It's destroyed his reputation. It's destroyed his ability to make a living for himself and my mother.