Explosive lawsuit by former white supremacist causes tension in Canada's Jewish community

Elisa Hategan is accusing Elizabeth Moore, a former fellow white supremacist, of “wrongful appropriation of personality” in an explosive new lawsuit.

Prologue

On March 19, a kind of mini-trial will take place in a Toronto courtroom—a hearing, actually—in which neither plaintiff or defendants, but a mountain of paper evidence: statements of claim, counter-claims, affidavits, supporting documents and so forth will be, figuratively speaking, called to the stand.

Based on what he has read, the judge will take one of the following decisions: a summary judgment will be made in favour of the plaintiff; the case will proceed to trial; a motion to dismiss the case will be granted (in which case the plaintiff will appeal); the defendants will win their countersuit; or both lawsuit and countersuit will be thrown out.

I am hoping for the first option.

The plaintiff has endured years of mental anguish and an unremitting sense of personal violation. I believe she is the victim of a purposeful injustice, which has robbed her of material benefit and rightful status in her adopted Jewish community. I think she deserves to be made whole insofar as that is possible through legal redress.

The Case

The plaintiff’s name is Elisa Hategan. Hategan is a former teenage member and spokesperson for Heritage Front (HF), a 1990s white-supremacist group whose dismemberment and demise was in large part owed to Hategan’s self-transformation over the course of her time in the group, leading to a courageous decision to secretly inform on them. Her testimony put infamous HF leader Wolfgang Droege and two of his henchmen behind bars.

Hategan is accusing Elizabeth Moore, a former HF fellow traveller who joined the group as Hategan was exiting it, of “wrongful appropriation of personality.” Hategan began legal proceedings against Moore in Dec, 2018; in a Feb 2019 amendment, she added to the suit Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress and, since 2018, founding Chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN, sometimes CAN), for whom Moore is an occasional spokesperson and a Board of Advisors member. Hategan accuses Farber of being integral to maintaining Moore’s fraud by using his authority and influence to “disseminate a false narrative of Moore’s life.”

The lawsuit as well alleges that Ms Moore conspired to exclude Ms Hategan from a proposed textbook on hate groups curated by educator Barbara Perry, Director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at OISE—who sits on the CAHN advisory board—which was scheduled to be published in January 2019, while ensuring that her—Moore’s—own account would be included.

The story behind the lawsuit is complex and difficult to distil succinctly, because its roots are entwined with a peculiar chapter in the history of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). In the 1990s, CSIS entrusted a well-funded mission of penetration into HF to a former private investigator, about whom they knew relatively little—indeed, less than “little” in light of the sensitivity of the contemplated mission—by the name of Grant Bristow, who turned out to be something of a loose cannon CSIS was unable or unwilling to constrain.

Breaching a primary rule of espionage in his mission, termed “Operation Governor,” Bristow overshot his role as comrade-in-arms to become a lead actor in guiding HF from an amateur collection of desultorily organized social misfits grinding out hate flyers and rallies, to an ambitious, disciplined unit that, in what Bristow dubbed the “It Campaign,” aggressively targeted anti-racist activists, inflicting serious material and human damage of a gravity never envisaged before Bristow’s infiltration.

A number of critics consider Bristow got off lightly in a Security Intelligence Review Committee Report (SIRC), at which Hategan testified, which concluded that Bristow merely “tested the limits” of what was acceptable. That judgment was disputed, for instance, by former Toronto Sun reporter Bill Dunphy, who spent four years covering HF. He felt strongly that the spy caused more harm than good, telling a Toronto Star reporter: “I believe Bristow wildly overinflated that situation, made (the Heritage Front) appear more dangerous than they were, and then actually helped them to become dangerous enough to justify what he and the government was doing.”

Dunphy’s opinion aligns with Hategan’s. In her 2014 memoir Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence Service’s Greatest Cover-up, Hategan gives detailed accounts of the Bristow-conceived It Campaign, in which she was deeply involved, when the lives of anti-racism activists, some of them vulnerable LGBT people, were made miserable by doxing and terrifying stalking.

Worth mentioning, in the context of what happened to Hategan, and lending support to the notion that the SIRC report was arguably a face-saving exercise for CSIS, is the fact that Bristow was accorded safety within the Witness Protection Program, given a new identity, a lovely home and a more-than-comfortable pension. Hategan was given no recompense by CSIS, not provided with any protection, and in fact was pretty much hung out to dry by them.

She was forced into a life on the run from HF members seeking vengeance for her betrayal. She passed years virtually alone and largely friendless, unable to support herself gainfully, often isolated, “quarantined” in squalid “safe” houses for tedious months on end. Hategan clawed her way back to a normal and productive life, accruing degrees in psychology and criminology (from which she graduated magna cum laude) along the way, through brilliance aligned with sheer grit and determination.

Moore’s exit from HF seems to have been quite uneventful. Essentially, after changing her telephone number, life went on in familiar surroundings. She was never separated from her loving, supportive family,  and never provided information about the HF to law enforcement to assist in shutting down the group (contrary to Farber’s statement on a Sept, 2017 segment of TVO’s The Agenda that Moore had been one of two women—the other Hategan—who “basically shut down the Heritage Front”).  She never had to look over her shoulder, let alone take precautions for her safety, and found a new role for herself in anti-racist public speaking, which   led to material benefit, almost immediately after her exit.

Disclosures

First and foremost, I guess, should be the fact that although I do not know Bernie Farber personally, we are both Jews with a certain public profile in our community. We are also both polemicists, competing at times for the hearts and minds of our co-religionists on issues of importance to all Canadian Jews. We both write monthly columns for the Canadian Jewish News. Politically, I lean right of centre; he leans left. We both have supporters and detractors in the community.

I have expressed disdain for some of Farber’s perspectives on fighting hatred, particularly antisemitism, in print and in social media. For example, I recently mocked Farber in one of my CJN columns for his failure to take seriously any form of antisemitism that does not emanate from the far right, as well as for his tendency to see antisemitism where it does not exist in conservative individuals and organizations, as well as for his tendency to turn his gaze away from antisemitism arising within minority cultures.

I also harbour a bias against CAHN, since I consider it an institutional extension of Farber’s biases. Rather than take up space in explaining all the reasons I find CAHN problematic, I would refer readers to a superb in-depth, rather damning investigative reportage in C2C Journal, titled “The Wrath of CAHN,” by businessman John Klein, which reinforces with more wide-ranging evidence than I was even aware of my already poor opinion of CAHN.

My third disclosure is that I am presently being sued by CAHN advisory board member Richard Warman for having retweeted a CAHN-critical article published by the Federalist (I won’t link to it, as that might be construed as provocative by Mr. Warman), which Warman claims contained defamatory statements that presumably I should have known were defamatory. I can say with confidence – and can prove—that my interest in, and research into the Hategan lawsuit began well before Warman initiated his suit.

I also stipulate that I have made no attempt to interview Moore or Farber. My knowledge of their actions and statements is taken from primary sources submitted to the court as supporting documents for the Hategan case. In 2019, I did meet with Elisa Hategan for a long interview. Anyone interested in Farber/Moore’s perspectives is free to consult their easily accessible public-domain claims and declarations.

Nothing I relate below, however embarrassing it might be for the defendants to see replicated, is speculation or gossip or conjecture, unless I describe it thus. Every allegation is attributed, every established fact is sourced from documents in the public domain, and is therefore fair game for comment.

I believe Hategan has justice on her side, because in over 100,000 words of testimony I have read—her interview statements, her book, her statement of claim, her rebuttals to media reports, and her affidavit, she has never wavered in a single detail, and backs up every statement with evidence (documents totalling over 1000 pages have been filed for the hearing), whereas Moore’s documented statements are so often vague, inconsistent or contradictory—rarely accompanied by evidence, not even a membership card to prove she was an official member of HF—they raised serious doubts for me about her as a reliable narrator.

The two young women had a few things in common, most obviously their youthful fascination with white supremacy, and their mutual defection from HF, as their dormant moral compasses sprang to life and directed them away from the darkness toward the light. Hategan, who discovered Jewish antecedents in the course of her awakening, converted to Judaism. Moore is married to a Jew. But there the similarity ends.

That is, they end there in fact. But in Moore’s self-presentation, abetted by Farber, in all kinds of public forums, her story has achieved an eerie twinship with Hategan’s.

For a tiny but telling example, Hategan notes that Moore began to claim, around 2017, that she had been the only white student in her class. But her high school yearbook indicates she was one of a number of Caucasians. Hategan claims Moore lifted this fact from her memoir, published in 2014, in which she notes that one of the reasons for her alienation was the fact that in the group home in which she was forced to live in because of her abusive home life, she was the only white girl, and was bullied on that account.

For the most troubling example, the 1998 CBC film, White Lies, starring Sarah Polley, was promoted as being based on Moore’s life, but “a vast majority of the scenes,” Hategan alleges in a critique of the film, were taken directly from Hategan’s life. (Hategan only saw the film in 2015, having previously assumed it actually was Moore’s story, the film having opened during Hategan’s years on the run from HF. A statute of limitations precluded her from suing the broadcaster.)

Hategan says that Dennis Foon, the film’s script writer and producer, did not respond to her attempts to contact him, let alone seek to interview her. But on his website, he claimed the film was inspired by “a high school girl, Elizabeth Moore,” and no one else. (Moore was not in fact in high school when she joined HF. She was “in [her] early 20s,” as she stated in a 2011 documentary, “In God’s Keeping,” produced for her Ryerson MFA program.)

Hategan writes, “Specifically, the scenes were lifted from my 1994 trial testimony against the Heritage Front white supremacists, and my 1995 testimony in the House of Commons, along with the extensive press coverage in the Ontario newspapers that covered my story. When examined frame-by-frame, approx. 80% of scenes from White Lies can be directly traced to Elisa Hategan.”

Hategan confronted Moore about White Lies in an email. Moore did not deny Hategan’s charges, but blamed the appropriation on Foon. She wrote to Hategan, “What Dennis learned about you came from legit sources like court records, newspapers articles and talking to many people who knew you then. He did over a year of research on this and it certainly went far and above and beyond me, my story, and what I could share.”

Basically, then, the CBC “disappeared” Hategan from her own story. Moore was recompensed $12,500 for her advisory role in the film. Hategan did not receive a penny, nor was she included in the credits. But Bernie Farber was.

The question arises: Why did Bernie Farber feel he had to choose between Hategan, with whom he had initially had a positive relationship when he was CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress, and Moore? Why not welcome both young women under CAHN’s umbrella and encourage both to help CAHN fulfil its mission of educating the public about hate groups?

In a long affidavit by Hategan to be considered by the court on Mar 19 (which I have read but am not permitted to link to before Mar 19), Hategan offers her own theories.

One theory is that Farber wished to reward Moore for her collusion in the appropriation of Hategan’s story that benefited them both in the making of White Lies, whose scriptwriter relied on Farber for pertinent information.

Another theory is that Farber formed a friendship with Grant Bristow in 2004, and would be uncomfortable working with the woman who had witnessed Bristow’s incitation to criminal actions that brought grief to Farber’s community, and who would inevitably continue to push back against Farber’s softer perspective of Bristow.

For example, Farber told the Toronto Star, which published a feature story on the Bristow affair in April, 2017, that Bristow had “saved my life” by preventing HF members from storming the CJC headquarters with the idea of “tak[ing] out some people.” Hategan rebuts Farber’s assertion in an open letter to the Star reporter. “There is ZERO proof of an attempted Heritage Front attack on Bernie Farber or the CJC,” Hategan writes. She adds, regarding the “good” Farber claims Bristow did, that in spite of being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of his adventure, Bristow’s actions “never led to a single arrest and conviction of a Canadian white supremacist.”

This assertion, as well as Hategan’s assertions about the “It Campaign” are corroborated in an email attached to Hategan’s open letter by Martin Thériault, at the time of Hategan’s defection from HF the coordinator of the Canadian Center on Racism and Prejudice (CCRP). Thériault was also Hategan’s handler through most of her harrowing sojourn in the wilderness in her post-HF period of flight and hiding. He as well assisted in the prosecutions of Wolfgang Droege and his associates at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal where Hategan’s testimony condemned them to prison sentences.

Hategan also takes the Star columnist to task for failing to interview her, or the women who were “terrorized by Bristow,” and as well for her failure to fact check the work of Walrus reporter Andrew Mitrovica, whose long 2004 reportage on Bristow was a major source piece for the Star feature, but which, shockingly, left Hategan out altogether.

Another of Hategan’s theories as to why Farber wanted to shut her out of what might be called the anti-hate/antisemitism education “circuit” that Farber dominates is “as a way to ensure the silence of someone who has evidence that could ‘destroy’ the reputation of the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress and its directors.”

Here Hategan is referring to the fact that Moore, now married, had conducted an on-and-off years-long affair with Len Rudner (the affair was corroborated and elaborated upon in emails and conversations between Hategan and Moore, in Moore’s sworn cross-examination over her affidavit, and in a rather frantic email Rudner sent to Hategan), then director of social outreach at Canadian Jewish Congress, and working directly under Farber. Rudner is now a member of the CAHN “team.”

Rudner and Moore participated together in remunerative speaking engagements and projects on the topic of hate and antisemitism, opportunities Hategan would have been a logical candidate for, but was excluded from. According to Hategan’s affidavit, for example, Rudner was responsible for getting Moore a role in a 2005 documentary, “Choose Your Voice,” for use as a teaching resource to help students in middle school learn to speak out against racism, antisemitism and intolerance, yet another lost opportunity for Hategan, and disturbing to her for its appearance of favouritism.

Following the conviction of Wolfgang Droege and his two associates in June 1994, Justice Tremblay-Lamer, who presided over the trial, had this to say about Hategan’s testimony:

I found Ms. Hategan very credible, candid, calm and patient during an intensive cross- examination. She has never contradicted herself, and her forthright demeanour and manner of expression left no doubt in my mind that she was credible. Such was the strength of her oral and affidavit evidence, that neither Mr. Droege’s testimony or that of any other witness could refute or even seriously challenge it. Based on the evidence of Ms. Hategan alone, I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants are guilty.

Will the judge presiding over the March 19 hearing come to the same conclusion?

Epilogue

Why did this story capture my interest, when literally hundreds of other journalists Hategan approached turned it down? Maybe it seemed like small beer to them—a kind of cat fight between two women reprising a weird latter-day version of the old Solomonic tale in which two mothers contest maternity over a baby. In this case the “baby” they are fighting over is a historical narrative: Who was the real white supremacist, who was the real hater, who took the greatest risks in defection, and who therefore has the right to greater moral and social stature for having overcome the greater challenge in traversing the greater distance from vice to virtue.

There is unquestionable irony in a situation where the “winner” is perceived to be the contestant with the more damning—and therefore, in this case, more marketable history of bigotry and redemption. On the other hand, once the battle against racism becomes monetized and social capital accrues to those who have redeemed themselves from evil, then one’s narrative is in a real sense a form of equity, and appropriating it for social and financial gain is just as unethical as any other act of fraud.

A stolen narrative—if that is what singles you out in the marketplace of ideas and values—can mean the difference between a modestly fruitful career and high status within a community, and a struggle to get by in relative poverty and obscurity. It is all very well to bemoan the fact that anti-racism activism has been commodified, but it has been—CAHN for example receives grants, public donations, school board-wide contracts for producing education seminars, and speaker fees – and one’s story in this marketplace is one’s product.

Observed through a wider lens, this tense battle between individual stakeholders in the anti-racism “business” raises some troubling questions. Conservative public intellectual Thomas Sowell encapsulated my own concerns well: “Non-profit organizations that are financially dependent on current contributions…[have] incentives to alarm their respective constituencies over various social, political or other issues, and few constraints to confine themselves to accurate or valid bases for those alarms.”

That certainly sums up part of the problem here. I do believe CAHN has fallen victim to Internet Clay Shirkey’s principle that “Institutions Will Seek To Preserve The Problem For Which They Are The Solution.” As Mr. Klein’s C2C Journal article notes, hate-crime statistics are going down in Canada. Most hateful expression emerges in the form of words and minor vandalism. Actual hate-based physical assault statistics are extremely low for our population.

CAHN is a privately-formed, unelected, unappointed body that has no formal connection to the Jewish community, and certainly does not speak for me or many other Jews as individuals. Yet it is considered by many influential non-Jewish cultural elites to hold something like official standing, an impression CAHN seems to encourage, and has become the “go-to” source for commentary on antisemitism in Canada for a number of media outlets.

If that actually were the case, if CAHN were an official community body, CAHN could be held accountable for, say, certain inconsistencies in its approach, or there would be some kind of ethics committee through which Hategan could have applied to lodge a complaint against Moore. But it isn’t, and therefore Hategan’s only recourse is the legal system.

In short, as a Jew, I consider this whole embarrassing affair to be what in Yiddish is called a “shanda”—a Jewish scandal that has now opened itself to scrutiny in all its troubling details by the wider public. Let’s hope it comes to a speedy, just resolution on Mar. 19.

Finally, a very personal note…

In her turbulent first 20 years of life, Elisa, “this wretched little immigrant girl,” as Moore patronizingly referred to her in a 1994 article, survived nightmare scenarios that would have beaten most of us into a craven pulp, a piece of human wreckage forever dependent on the kindness of strangers.

That she was able to summon the courage, resilience and empowerment to overcome the unremitting blows dealt by a wretched home, and all that followed, almost always alone, to emerge as a fully functioning, competent, productive human is wonderful and mysterious—almost miraculous.