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Tearful Ahenakew blames health problem (NATIONAL POST) Charlie Gillis, with files from Robert Remington 12/18/02) Source: http://www.nationalpost.com/search/site/story.asp?id=EA3D8D2C-19F4-48A4-9E22-6BAF90C8FF79
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David Ahenakew extended an abject apology yesterday for his hateful remarks toward Jews, but it was not enough to head off a police investigation under Canada´s hate-crime laws or a growing campaign to have him stripped of his Order of Canada.
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"I am ashamed and truly sorry for my conduct," Mr. Ahenakew said yesterday, wiping away tears with a cloth.
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Saskatchewan´s Attorney-General, Chris Axworthy, went ahead with a criminal complaint against the former chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who uttered a string of slurs against Jews last Friday during and after a speech to native leaders.
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Mr. Ahenakew referred to Jewish people as a disease, described the Holocaust as Adolf Hitler´s effort to clean up the world and said Hitler was right when he "fried" six million Jews.
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"These comments were particularly offensive and deserve to be treated as seriously as possible," Mr. Axworthy said yesterday in an interview. "One way to indicate our serious commitment and assess what steps should be taken was to refer the matter to the RCMP."
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An RCMP spokeswoman said the force will examine the complaint and decide whether to proceed with an investigation under the Criminal Code, which bans hateful statements that could lead to breaches of public peace.
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Mr. Axworthy proceeded despite Mr. Ahenakew´s emotional apology yesterday to Jewish people for his remarks, and to the aboriginal community for the shame he has brought to it.
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The native leader also announced he was resigning his chairmanship and seat on the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), along with the other public offices he holds.
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He attributed the remarks to "frustration and imbalance perpetrated by my health," but did not specify the condition he was suffering. "I was wrong ... I want to publicly state that words cannot describe how sorry I am for the hurt that I have caused. I want to extend my most sincere apologies to members of the Jewish community, to Holocaust survivors and their families.
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"Such comments have no excuse."
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Mr. Ahenakew said he hoped to express his remorse in person to representatives of the Canadian Jewish community.
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Wearing his Order of Canada pin on his lapel, Mr. Ahenakew said he was wrong not to apologize sooner.
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"I have clearly embarrassed our people. I admit my own stubbornness, my pigheadedness and my own personal embarrassment prevented me from coming forward immediately to do the right thing in light of what I have caused by such irresponsible and painful comments," he said.
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He did not, however, clearly explain why he embarked on the profanity- laced tirade, other than to say he was caught up in "the heat of the moment" at the conference he was attending. He was trying to spark debate, he said, about the slights aboriginal Canadians have suffered at the hands of non-native governments.
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Mr. Ahenakew´s apology capped a fall from grace for a man held in high regard for his tireless promotion of aboriginal causes.
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A member of the Order of Canada since 1978, Mr. Ahenakew was celebrated for his work as a member of a United Nations committee and of the World Indigenous Peoples Council. He served as FSIN chief from 1968 to 1978 and Assembly of First Nations chief from 1982 to 1985.
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But his public reputation imploded last weekend after Mr. Ahenakew told a crowd of native leaders that Jews would have taken over the world if Hitler had not stopped them. "The Jews damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war," Mr. Ahenakew said. "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 goddamned world. And look what they´re doing. They´re killing people in Arab countries."
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The statements set off a wave of revulsion and condemnation, as native organizations and other minority groups expressed disgust and demanded an apology.
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A former communications manager for the federation said he was not surprised that Mr. Ahenakew held those views, only that he said them in public.
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Mr. Ahenakew "was never very politically correct," said Doug Cuthand, who worked with Mr. Ahenakew in the 1970s. "His attitudes towards not just the Jews, but other races and women were fairly backward."
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Perry Bellegarde, chief of the FSIN, said it was not true that federation officials knew Mr. Ahenakew held these views.
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Yesterday, Mr. Ahenakew´s Order of Canada looked to be in jeopardy, as a fellow recipient went ahead with a petition to have it revoked under a process overseen by the Chief Justice of Canada. Irving Abella, a former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress who is now a professor at York University, said Mr. Ahenakew´s explanation was not enough.
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"I assumed he was going to say he was suffering from some sort of illness," Mr. Abella told CBC-TV. "He didn´t just burn bridges. He blew them up."
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Peter Trueman, the former broadcaster who received his Order of Canada in October, thinks Mr. Ahenakew should be stripped of his order only if proven guilty of a hate crime, citing the precedent set when Alan Eagleson had his order revoked in 1998 after a fraud conviction.
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Keith Landy, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, called Mr. Ahenakew´s apology a "positive gesture" and applauded the numerous aboriginal groups that rushed to reassure his organization after the remarks. He is waiting to see how Mr. Ahenakew follows through on expressing his remorse in person. "Actions will speak louder than words. I think it´s up to Mr. Ahenakew to now determine what he thinks is appropriate.
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"What possible explanation could he put forward to justify what he said?" Mr. Landy asked. "What level of frustration does one reach before one explodes [with] the kind of hatred that he has exhibited?"
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Mr. Bellegarde called for dialogue between his organization and the Jewish community. He also took responsibility for failing to speak against Mr. Ahenakew more quickly, saying his group wanted more information. "Once we had the full picture, all the information, we did denounce them [the remarks] and said we don´t accept that," he said.
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"Our elders always tell us to have kindness and respect," he added. "Nobody is above anybody ... and if we say that, we have to hold our own people to the same test."
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This week has seen a spate of apologies, from a Canadian native leader to a U.S. Senator to a Bosnian Serb war criminal. (© Copyright 2002 National Post 12/18/02)
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