David Ahenakew, a former senator with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, has been found not guilty of wilfully promoting hatred against Jewish people.
Provincial court Judge Wilfrid Tucker handed down his decision in Saskatoon Monday in Ahenakew's second trial on the charge. The judge said the Crown did not prove that Ahenakew had the intent necessary for a conviction.
He called Ahenakew's comments "revolting, disgusting and untrue," however.
A gasp could be heard in the courtroom as the judge read out the conclusion to his decision. One person could be heard clapping.
"Thank God it's over, and I mean that," Ahenakew told reporters as he left the courthouse. "It's been awful."
Ahenakew was charged after making remarks about Jews during a public speech and subsequent interview with a newspaper reporter in December, 2002.
After his first trial, Ahenakew was convicted of wilfully promoting hatred and fined, but in 2006 the Court of Queen's Bench set aside the conviction and ordered a new trial.
Last fall, Ahenakew, now 75, was tried again.
The Crown's case was that Ahenakew violated Canada's hate legislation during a speech to an FSIN conference about health consent forms and in an interview with Saskatoon StarPhoenix reporter James Parker that immediately followed, in which Ahenakew called Jews a "disease" that started the Second World War.
During his testimony, Ahenakew claimed that Parker got him into an argumentative interview.
Tucker said in his ruling Monday that the reporter did nothing wrong. However, the fact that Ahenakew had said "I'm not going to argue with you about Jews" and began to walk away from the interview was not consistent with someone seeking to promote hatred, he said.
The comments about Jewish people during the speech appeared to be in the context of someone urging First Nations people to be more confrontational on the issue of health consent forms, Tucker said.
Ahenakew made "derogatory and insulting" statements about "immigrants" that he took to mean anyone who was not aboriginal, with special attention on Jewish people, Tucker said.
However, the remarks appeared to be spontaneous and not an attempt to spread hatred of Jews, Tucker said.
The story that ran in the paper the day after the conference shocked the country. Ahenakew had his Order of Canada taken away from him and was removed as an FSIN senator.
Ahenakew's lawyer, Doug Christie, said last week that he was expecting a guilty verdict on Monday and there would likely be an appeal if that were the case.
After the decision was handed down, Christie said he hoped the Jewish community and the attorney general were satisfied and the decision would mark the end of the case.
"How many times does a person have to apologize for making a mistake?" he said.