Former Canada Green Party candidate accused of hate speech for denying Holocaust

Human rights complaints have been filed against a former candidate for Canada’s Green Party after she posted online videos in which she denied the Holocaust occurred.

The complaints were launched after two videos surfaced of Monika Schaefer, who ran for the party in Alberta. In one titled “Sorry Mom, I was wrong about the Holocaust,” the Canadian-born Schaefer talked about being teased as a child of German immigrants.

She said she now understands her mother’s claim of not knowing about the mass murders of Jews “because these things did not happen.”

Schaefer, a resident of Jasper, Alberta, described the Holocaust as “the most persistent lie in all of history”; claimed that prisoners at Nazi death camps “were kept as healthy and as well-fed as was possible”; and asserted “there were no gas chambers” in the camps.

Schaefer appeared in a second video produced by a group called Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust.

“If the evidence supported the Holocaust,” she said on the video, “they wouldn’t need laws prohibiting debate. They would show us the evidence. Only lies need to be protected by laws. The truth stands on its own.”

Her statements led fellow Jasper resident Ken Kuzminski to file complaints against Schaefer with the Alberta Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Commission, alleging her remarks constitute hate speech.

Schaefer was the federal Green Party candidate in an Alberta electoral district in 2006, 2008 and 2011. She was rejected as a candidate for the district prior to the 2015 federal election and in a 2014 by-election.

Green Party Executive Director Emily McMillan in a statement called Schaefer’s comments “outrageous and shocking,” adding that Schaefer “has no standing within the Green Party of Canada, and her views are exclusively her own.”

McMillan said the party will request that a motion be put forward at its next meeting to terminate Schaefer’s membership.

Dancing the Chai Life

When Sarah Sommer started the Chai Folk Ensemble with eight other young girls in 1964, she had modest expectations. The young women practiced Israeli folk dancing in Sommer’s basement in Winnipeg, Canada, stepping in time to recorded music. When they started performing for live audiences in 1967, the recorded music was replaced with a live musician — the mainstay of all folk performances — an accordion player.

Now, 40 years later, The Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble (Sommer died in 1969) is no longer dancing in basements or clicking their heels to accordion music. The nonprofit troupe is run by a board of directors and has a full artistic staff, including costume designers, choreographers from Israel and Argentina, and a technical team that ensures that Sommer’s Israeli folk-dancing vision stays alive. The troupe itself now numbers 47 — including eight vocalists, nine musicians and 20 dancers. They perform in large venues all over the world.

“I don’t think that Sommer ever imagined that it would be as large or survive as long as it had,” said Reeva Nepon, the ensemble’s administrative director. “It really is unique to North America because there are no other [folk] groups this large that have live accompaniment — you won’t find our dancers dancing to recorded music.”

The group’s repertoire has also expanded. They use the dances to tell the story of Jewish communities all over the world, incorporating, Chasidic, klezmer, Israeli and Yiddish influences to give a terpsichorean voice to far-flung communities such as Yemen or Morocco.

At their upcoming Los Angeles performance, for example, the show will close with the dance “Chasida” — the Hebrew word for stork. The dance depicts “Operation Exodus” — the mass migration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the late 1980s. In the dance, the performers, wearing sackcloth coats, make their way to the Promised Land. There they shake off their coats and hold them high above their heads, revealing the pristine white dresses worn underneath, and a moment of heart-soaring joy.

“The whole stage lights up and it is so explosive, and so powerful,” said Tracy Kasner-Greaves, Chai’s artistic director. “The performers beam and glow from the stage.”

The Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble will start its first tour of Southern California on Feb. 10 at the Fred Kavli Theatre for Performing Arts, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., at 7:30 p.m. For tickets ($18-$54) call (805) 449-2787.