Canada's Charlottesville

on Aug 24, 2017 at 3:18 PM in Politics, Society, Activism, North America

Americans may not know it, but Canada had its own version of the Charlottesville riots back in 1965 with a cast of characters somewhat similar but with a few nuances. One member of the cast was the newly-formed Canadian Nazi Party (CNP) - later the Canadian National Socialist Party (CNSP) - an outfit founded that same year and led by an unemployed twenty-four year-old named John Beattie.

During the spring of 1965 Beattie and a small number of local itinerants would occasionally harangue passersby on Sundays by engaging in racist rants about Jews and Blacks in Allen Gardens, a park in a less than upscale part of downtown Toronto. Usually, Beattie would ramble on with bodyguards surrounding him and few passersby would bother to stop and listen to him. However May 30th of 1965 would be different.

On that Sunday a crowd of about five-thousand, mainly Jews and assorted leftists, some 500 of who were armed with baseball bats, poles, and two-by-fours, showed up to confront him as he entered the park. News of the impending violent confrontation apparently had spread to Beattie’s own subalterns, since on this day his 6 or 7 “bodyguards” forgot to appear, leaving their leader free to confront the hostile crowd on his own. In the event, Beattie and some entirely innocent bystanders – a Protestant Minister and 6 Bikers - were beaten to the tune of a crowd chanting “Kill them! Kill them!” and were only saved from serious injury by a contingent of about 50 police officers who forcibly intervened. Beattie and eight of the attackers were arrested and charged with creating a public disturbance.1

The protest was organized by various Jewish and radical left organizations and was fueled by news media spreading stories claiming the Nazis had been granted a permit to speak, and that they would be out in large numbers both of which assertions were false. The protestors were also fueled by two CBC interviews with George Lincoln Rockwell, then head of the American Nazi Party as well as with two of Ontario’s finest anti-Semites, David Stanley, and John Ross Taylor. These media events, which gave expression to some of the Nazis’ more extreme views, had the effect of angering many in the Jewish community who believed that giving Nazis a platform to vent their hatred was intolerable.

After the riot, Toronto Police Chief, James Mackey chastised the actions of the protestors calling it a mob “trying to take the law into their own hands,” while others claimed the rioting was the result of an “emotional outpouring” or a “reflex action” caused by the very thought and sight of Nazis freely spewing their genocidal hatred in Canada. One observer, Rabbi Feinberg, told the Globe and Mail that the riot “was bound to happen” and was the fault of lawmakers “paralyzed by philosophical debate” over proposed anti-hate speech legislation.2 Nevertheless, it is clear that the some of the actions of the counter-demonstrators were not simply a result of spontaneous emotional outpourings.

In fact, the miniscule contingent of Nazis was infiltrated by individuals with connections to the Jewish community, some of whom played supporting roles in the May 30th riot. John Beattie’s primary bodyguard was a private detective employed by the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) to spy on and report back to Congress officials the plans and activities of Beattie and his group.3 Three Jewish students from a group which styled itself N3 (after Newton’s third law of thermodynamics) also infiltrated the Nazis and clearly had a hand in orchestrating the actions of the counter-demonstrators. Another Jewish infiltrator attended various membership meetings of the Nazis and, along with another man, styled simply as “Irv” succeeded in pilfering the group’s entire membership lists. 4

Still another employee of the Congress working as a double-agent rented a room to Beattie in his own home, and may have even loaned him the money for a down-payment on a house in Toronto’s east end.5 Whether the CJC could be described as “bankrolling” the Nazis, it is clear that it and various other Jewish groups had very good intelligence on Beattie’s plans and activities throughout 1965 and 1966 and were well-organized and well-prepared to confront him on May 30th. The CJC, as did N3, knew that Beattie had no permit for his May 30thspeaking gig but “neglected” to contact the authorities who likely would have prevented him from speaking, thus, aborting the ensuing violence. Whether the CJC as well as N3 deliberately refrained from communicating the relevant information to the police, it is clear that both of their agendas benefited from the event; it is also clear that they could easily have prevented it from happening. On the other hand, while it is certainly clear that the anti-Nazi demonstration was both planned and organized, whether the 15 minutes of violence that ensued was also planned and organized is not clear. Some commentators argued it was while others that it was not.6

What surely is clear is that whatever Beattie’s ambitions, whatever the media made of them, and whatever powers Jewish community organizations endowed him with, the fact is that Beattie and his party were insignificant nothings as far as threats to the well-being of Jews in Canada, or, even in Toronto go. According to the RCMP, the CNP had at most 50 members. Others, closer to the Nazi scene because they worked within it as spies, put the number anywhere from 9 to 17. Whatever the actual number, as subsequent events would bear out, it is more than clear that the CNP, loaded with spies and informers, constituted no serious threat to anyone but its leader. According to a study by the RCMP in December of 1969:

The C.N.S.P. has no organizational affiliation in Canada and the sphere of its activity is limited. The party has no finances and because of this there is [sic] no printing facilities or official publication. It is not believed that BEATTIE or any other supporter of the party could exert any influence on the Government or the community. The number of supporters is very small….BEATTIE is a poor leader and organizer who has continual financial worries both from a political and domestic point of view. He gets little help from the majority of the supporters in the operation of the C.N.S.P. as most of them are dull and not politically astute.7

Even though most of the relevant players in the riot of 1965 knew that the Nazis – half of whom were working undercover for Jewish organizations – were a dissolute band of social misfits and local losers; the riot itself played a critical part in the eventual passage of Canada’s hate speech law. This, despite the fact that the riot was not due to any violence on the part of the Nazis but was entirely the result of outrage on the part of leftist protestors to the mere fact that Beattie was permitted to speak. There it is: Charlottesville in the Great White North - fifty years earlier.

  1. Franklin Bialystok, Delayed Impact: The Holocaust and the Canadian Jewish Community (Montreal & Kingston: Queen’s, 2000), 133.
  2. The Globe and Mail, May 31, 1965.
  3. John Garrity, “My Sixteen Months as a Nazi”, Macleans, October 1, 1966.
  4. “Neo-Nazis in Toronto”, 4-5 Canadian Jewish Studies (1996-97), 120-27
  5. Rhonda Spivak, “Spies Like Us”, Jerusalem Post, June 18, 2009.
  6. Bialystok, at 134.
  7. RCMP Investigative report on the Canadian National Socialist Party, Toronto, Ontario, December 18, 1969, at 3.

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