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Prof. H. Loewen at an anti-racist rally in Winnipeg over a decade ago.


By Rhonda Spivak

Have you ever heard about the remarkable battle that took place in Winnipeg’s Old Market Square in 1934 when hundreds of anti-Fascist protestors, including many Jewish anti-fascists, physically fought with members of the pro-Nazi Nationalist Party of Canada ?

This often overlooked event was the subject of Professor Helmut- Harry Loewen’s thought provoking and insightful analysis of ongoing lessons to be learned in dealing with Anti-Semitic hate speech today.

While the battle at Old Market Square is less well known than the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, it is significant in terms of showing the success of popular resistance to racism, according to Loewen, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Winnipeg.

Loewen’s interesting lecture on Anti-Semitism and Organized Racism in Winnipeg on March 7 delivered at the Berney Theatre here was sponsored by B’nai Brith Western Region and the Jewish Heritage Centre.

As Loewen, explained, after the Nazis seized power in Germany in 1933, “pro-Nazi groups and fascist organizations sympathetic to Adolf Hitler sprang up in Canada.”

According to Loewen, who is a Mennonite, “Among the best organized groups within Canada’s fascist network before World War II was the Nationalist Party of Canada.  It was formed in Winnipeg at secret meetings in 1933 by William Whittaker, a Great War veteran and a former Ku Klux Klan organizer.”

He noted that the Nationalist Party mobilized support from disillusioned war veterans, the unemployed, and from ideologically committed anti-Semites in the Ukrainian, Anglo-Saxon, German-Canadian,and Russian-Mennonite communities, especially in the Red River valley in Southern Manitoba.
Prof. Loewen at the Berney Theatre.
Prof. Loewen at the Berney Theatre.

In 1934, as Loewen explained, “Market Square was the traditional site for political speech… Between 75-100 members of Whittiker’s Canadian National Party appeared at Old market square, dressed in brown shirts [that served as the party’s uniform].  There were between 500-2000 anti-fascist protesters-accounts of the numbers differ—and the anti-Fascist forces, including Jews, began to push the fascists towards the old city hall, and clashes ensured… Over 20 Nationalists suffered injuries... Seven of Whittiker’s group ere arrested and the remainder were led away by police shortly after Whittiker and his bodyguards fled the scene in his vehicle.”

Loewen said that Joe Zuken, former popular Jewish Communist politician in Winnipeg, [who was the longest serving elected Communist party politician in  North America],   once said about the clashes on June 5, 1934, “That was the day  that the Nazis were driven away from Old Market  Square.”

Given the successes gained by anti-fascist groups, the Nationalist Party was unable to mobilize any further public meetings

In Loewen’s view, the 1934 clashes at Market Square showed that “Direct confrontation is required in some circumstances as a tool against racism.”

He added that, direct confrontation against Nazi sympathizers was necessary in 1934 as “a last resort”, because people felt that the government wasn’t doing anything to stop the fascists.

In an interview following the event, Loewen told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that “Saul Cherniak, who is now age 93 was at the Old Market Square Clashes.  He was 17 at the time, and was part of the socialist anti-fascist movement in Winnipeg. Cherniak later became the  Manitoba Finance Minister in 1969 under  then Premiere Ed Schreyer.”


In Loewen’s view, another lesson to be learned from the clashes of 1934, relates to the need for legislation and legal remedies to deal with  anti-Semitic hate speech.

He noted that in 1934, “The Nationalist Party newspaper was published in Winnipeg by Hermann H. Neufeld, a Mennonite publisher who also printed anti-Jewish hate propaganda sold and disseminated on the streets of Winnipeg.”

In March of 1934, several months before the clashes at Old Market Square, Marcus Hyman, a Jewish member of the legislature introduced a bill prohibiting “publication of a libel against a race or creed likely to expose persons belonging to the race or professing the creed to hatred, contempt or ridicule, and tending to raise unrest or disorder among the people.”

According to Loewen, “The Libel Act of 1934, which proscribed racially motivated group defamation, was the first example of what in the later part of the twentieth century came to be known as hate propaganda legislation in Canadian jurisprudence.”

Loewen also said that the Libel Act “was only used once” in Winnipeg’s history.

After the clashes in Old Market Square, a prominent Conservative Jewish lawyer, William Verner Tobias, who was a highly decorated World War I   veteran, filed group libel charges against Wittiker and Herman Neufeld, the Nationalists’ publisher.

Tobias got  “a cease and desist order”, although it did not completely halt the publication of the Nationalist’s anti-Jewish propaganda, Loewen said.

“At least the government had put in place legislation that could be used as a recourse against the Canadian Nationalist Party,” he added.

Loewen, who has been active in monitoring hate speech over the internet with the Canadian Anti-Racism Educational and Research Society, said he is an advocate of provisions that deal with hate speech both in the Criminal Code and under s.13 of the Canadian Human Rights legislation.

“There is, unfortunately, a concerted effort from a number of sources to whittle away these [hate speech] provisions,” according to Loewen, who mentioned such opponents as Ezra Levant and Mark Stein.

In Loewen’s view, s.13 of the Canadian Human Rights legislation “has been successful in terminating the most egregious type of hatred on the web,” and ought to not be changed.

Loewen, himself, was one of a number of complainants who complained about a hate telephone hotline of the Ku Klux Klan in 1993. He gave testimony before the Canadian Human Rights Commission which found the KKK to have violated s.13 of CHR legislation.  He noted that B’nai Brith Canada had been a “valuable resource” to him in pursuing his complaint.

Regarding the spread of hate over the internet, Loewen suggested that was a  useful website, which monitors and track hate group activity, helps young people leave hate groups, and provides information and advice on filing complaints to stop hate motivated activity on and off the Net.

Additionally, Loewen, who has consulted and advised  Winnipeg city police on hate crimes, noted that B’nai Brith Canada’s Annual Audit on Anti-Semitism is a very valuable audit as “police records of these incidents are often incomplete.”

On the subject of Israel Apartheid Week, Loewen told the audience that he opposes the existence of Israel Apartheid Week on University campuses.

In an interview following the event, Loewen told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that “I was active in the South Africa apartheid movement. I was one of four Canadian delegates appointed by [then Canadian Prime minister] Brian Mulroney to emergency meetings at the United Nations Special Committee on apartheid. Apartheid is a crime against international law. We can’t use this type of legal category to delegitimize the State of Israel.”

Alan Yusim, executive director of B’nai Brith Midwest Region told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that “Professor Loewen’s presentation clearly indicated that the old- world calumny, canards, blood libels and slander of Jews and Israel have been given a modern update. Today, he observed, events such as Israel Apartheid Week propel anti-Semitism on campuses across Canada and around the world.” 

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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