In 1977, Zündel founded a small press publishing house called Samisdat Publishers which issued such pamphlets as The Hitler We Loved and Why and Did Six Million Really Die?, both prominent documents of the Holocaust denial movement.
On February 5, 2003, Ernst Zündel was detained by U.S. local police and deported to Canada, where he was detained for two years on a Security Certificate for being a foreign national alleged to be a threat to national security pending a court decision on the validity of the certificate. Once the certificate was upheld and Zündel was determined to be a national security risk he was deported to Germany and tried in the state court of Mannheim on outstanding charges of incitement for Holocaust denial dating from the early 1990s. On February 15th, 2007, he was convicted and sentenced to the maximum term of five years in prison.
Professionally, Zündel worked as a graphic artist and printer. On several occasions in the 1960s he was commissioned to illustrate covers for Maclean's Magazine. His views on Nazism and Jews were not well known in the 1960s and 1970s as he initially published his opinions under the pseudonym Christof Friedrich. At the time, he was also an organizer among immigrants for the Ralliement des créditistes, Quebec's Social Credit party. In 1968 he joined the Liberal Party of Canada and ran in that year's Liberal leadership convention under the name Ernest Zeundel . He used the convention as a platform to allege that Canadian society was replete with anti-German attitudes. He dropped out of the contest prior to the voting, but not before delivering his campaign speech to the convention.
As Christof Friedrich, he also wrote several publications promoting the idea that UFOs are really secret weapons of Nazis who had fled to Neu-Schwabenland in Antarctica. The UFOs supposedly monitor humanity and are part of a secret plan to re-conquer the world at an unspecified time. Whether he actually believed these notions, or if it was just a publicity stunt, cannot be ascertained.
His first marriage ended in 1977 as his public notoriety grew.
Zündel campaigned in Canada to ban the movie Schindler's List on the grounds that it "generates hatred against Germans, and it should be possible to ban it under 'hate laws' in Canada, Germany, and other countries and celebrated the movie being banned in Malaysia and the Philippines, and effectively banned in Lebanon and Jordan.
In 1984, a pipe bomb blasted a hole through Zündel's garage door and on May 8, 1995, his Toronto residence was the target of an arson attack resulting in $75,000 in damage. The Jewish Armed Resistance Movement claimed responsibility for the arson attack though there are doubts about the claim's veracity. Five days after the incident members of the Jewish Defense League were detained by police upon being found in the property's vicinity. No charges have ever been laid in the incident. Later the same month Zündel was the recipient of a parcel bomb that was detonated by the Toronto Police Service's bomb squad. The investigation into the parcel bomb attack led to charges being laid against David Barbarash, an animal rights activist based in British Columbia, but they were eventually stayed.
In the 1970s, Zündel founded a small publishing house called Samisdat Publishers. Samisdat initially produced UFO-related books, some of them written pseudonymously by Zündel. Within a few years it began disseminating Nazi sympathizer literature, including Zündel's The Hitler We Loved and Why, Richard Verrall's Did Six Million Really Die?, and works by Malcolm Ross.
By the early 1980s, Samisdat Publications had grown into a worldwide distributor of Nazi and neo-Nazi posters, audiotapes, and memorabilia, as well as pamphlets and books devoted to Holocaust denial and Allied and Zionist "war crimes", claiming a mailing list of 29,000 in the United States alone. Advertisements for Samisdat Publications were purchased in well-known reputable American magazines and even comic books. West Germany became another large market, in violation of their Volksverhetzung (incitement of the masses) laws preventing Holocaust denial and dissemination of Nazi and neo-Nazi material, going so far as to send mass mailings to every member of the West German Bundestag (parliament).
In December 1980, the West German Federal Ministry of Finance told the Bundestag that between January 1978, and December 1979, "200 shipments of right-wing extremist and neo-Nazi content including books, periodicals, symbols, decorations, films, cassettes, and records" had been intercepted entering West Germany; these shipments "came overwhelmingly from Canada." On April 23, 1981, the West German government sent a letter to the Canadian Jewish Congress, confirming that the source of the material was Samisdat Publishers.
From 1981 to 1982 Zündel had his mailing privileges suspended by the Canadian government on the grounds that he had been using the mail to send hate propaganda, a criminal offence in Canada. Zündel then began shipping from a post office box in Niagara Falls, New York, until the ban on his mailing in Canada was lifted in January 1983.
Zündel was a vocal supporter of alleged Nazi war criminals living in Canada. During the trial of Imre Finta, Zündel was confronted outside the courthouse by a Holocaust survivor. Zündel told the survivor "Listen, yeah, we are gonna get you yet, don't you worry.
In 1997, Zündel told an interviewer from an Israeli newspaper that "[t]he Jews of the world have a Holocaust coming, and all the gruesome lies that they have told about people like Germans during the Second World War—all those grotesque Spielberg-like distortions of what really took place—one day will come back to haunt Jews, and I want to not be around when that happens.
Zündel underwent two criminal trials in 1985 and 1988. The charge against Zündel alleged that he "did publish a statement or tale, namely, "Did Six Million Really Die?" that he knows is false and that is likely to cause mischief to the public interest in social and racial tolerance, contrary to the Criminal Code." Zündel was originally found guilty by two juries but was finally acquitted upon appeal by the Supreme Court of Canada which held in 1992 that section 181 (formerly known as section 177) was a violation of the guarantees of freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The 1988 trial was notable for its reliance on testimony from individuals such as David Irving and Fred A. Leuchter, a self-declared expert in execution technology. Leuchter's testimony as an expert witness was accepted by the court, but his accompanying Leuchter Report was excluded, based on his lack of engineering credentials. In 1985, key expert testimony against Zündel's alleged Holocaust denial was provided at great lengths by Holocaust historian, Raul Hilberg. Hilberg refused to testify at Zündel's 1988 trial. Zündel was convicted in 1988 and sentenced to 15 months imprisonment by an Ontario court; however, in 1992 in R. v. Zündel his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada when the law he had been charged under, reporting false news, was ruled unconstitutional.
In 1997, Zündel's marriage with his second wife, Irene Marcarelli, collapsed after 18 months. "At one point I really loved him," she told an acquaintance. "By the end, I thought he was evil incarnate." She subsequently testified against him in the late 1990s when he was under investigation by the Canadian Human Rights Commission for promoting hatred against Jews via his website. In January 2000, before the Commission had completed its hearings, he left Canada for Sevierville, Tennessee where he married his third wife, Ingrid Rimland and vowed never to return to Canada.
Despite having lived in Canada for over forty years prior to moving to the United States, Zündel never obtained Canadian citizenship. Applications for citizenship were rejected in 1966 and again in 1994 for reasons that have never been publicly disclosed. So, upon his return to Canada, he had no status in the country as he was not a citizen and as his landed immigrant status had been forfeited by his prolonged absence from the country. Upon entry into Canada, Zündel claimed refugee status in hopes of preventing his deportation to Germany. This claim elicited public ridicule, Rex Murphy, a columnist for the Globe and Mail and a well known commentator on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation wrote "If Ernst Zündel is a refugee, Daffy Duck is Albert Einstein... Some propositions are so ludicrous that they are a betrayal of common sense and human dignity if allowed a moment's oxygen.
On May 2, 2003, Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Minister Denis Coderre and Solicitor General Wayne Easter issued a "national security certificate" against Zündel under the provisions of the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, indicating that he was a threat to Canada's national security and/or the human rights of Canadian citizens owing to his alleged links with violent neo-Nazi groups including Aryan Nations leader Richard Girnt Butler, neo-Nazi Christian Worch, and former Canadian Aryan Nations leader Terry Long, as well as Ewald Althans, convicted in a German court in 1995 of charges that included insulting the memory of the dead and insulting the state.
Zündel moved twice to have Canadian Federal Court justice Pierre Blais recuse himself from the case for "badgering and accusing the witness of lying" and exhibiting "open hostility" towards Zündel, and filed two constitutional challenges, one in the Ontario courts and one in the federal courts, both unsuccessful. During the hearing, Zündel characterized his position as "Sometimes I feel like a black man being convicted on Ku Klux Klan news clippings."
Zündel meanwhile moved to be released from detention on his own recognizance while the legal proceedings were ongoing. His lawyer, Doug Christie, introduced as a "surprise witness" Lorraine Day, a California doctor who practises alternative cancer treatments, to testify that Zündel's incarceration at Toronto's Metro West Detention Centre was causing his chest tumor (revealed to the court a few weeks previously) to grow and his blood pressure to rise, that the medication supplied to control his blood pressure was causing side-effects such as a slow heart rate and loss of memory, and that "He needs exercise, fresh air, and freedom from stress. The whole point is we need to have his high blood pressure controlled without the drug." On January 21, 2004, after three months of hearings including both public and secret testimony, Justice Blais again ruled against Zündel with a damning statement.
During his imprisonment, Canadian neo-Nazi leader Paul Fromm attempted to hold numerous rallies in support of Zündel, both in Ontario and in Alberta. The rallies were met with formidable opposition, namely by the Anti-Racist Action group, which heightened its opposition to Fromm's pro-Zündel work in the summer of 2004. The anti-racist efforts included participation by numerous Toronto activist groups and individuals, including Shane Ruttle Martinez and Marcell Rodden, and successfully managed to prevent similar future congregations of the neo-Nazis. Fromm eventually ceased his efforts after being advised by Zündel's attorneys that public clashes between opponents of the Zündel issues was not assisting the image of their client's case.
On February 24 2005, Justice Blais ruled that Canada could deport Zündel back to his native Germany at any time, and on February 25 Zündel's lawyer, Peter Lindsay, announced that his client would not attempt to obtain a stay against the deportation and that his fight to remain in Canada was over. In his decision, Justice Blais noted that Zündel had had the opportunity to respond to the allegations of the decision of January 21 by explaining the nature of his contacts with the extremists mentioned and/or providing exonerating witnesses, but had failed to do so. Blais found that "Mr. Zündel's activities are not only a threat to Canada's national security, but also a threat to the international community of nations.
Zündel was deported to Germany on March 1, 2005. Upon his arrival at Frankfurt airport, he was immediately arrested and detained in Mannheim prison awaiting trial for inciting racial hatred.
His trial was scheduled for five days beginning November 8, 2005, but ran into an early delay when Judge Ulrich Meinerzhagen ruled that Horst Mahler, whose license to practice as a lawyer was withdrawn in 2004 and who, in January 2005, was sentenced to nine months in prison for inciting racial hatred, could not be part of the defense team. Mahler had been associated with the violent far-left Red Army Faction in the 1970s, but has since become a supporter of far-right and antisemitic groups. Zündel's public defender Sylvia Stolz was also dismissed, on the grounds that her written submissions to the court included Mahler's ideas. On November 15, 2005, Meinerzhagen announced that the trial was to be rescheduled in order to allow new counsel time to prepare.
The trial resumed on February 9, 2006 for several court sessions but then adjourned on March 9 when the trial judge asked for Stolz to be removed as Zündel's defence lawyer after having denounced the court as a "tool of foreign domination" and described the Jews as an "enemy people". On March 31 the superior state court in Karlsruhe removed Stolz from the case for illegally obstructing proceedings "with the sole goal of sabotaging the trial . . . and making it into a farce".
The trial again resumed on June 9, 2006 and continued, intermittently, into early 2007. The prosecution concluded its case on January 26 2007 calling for Zündel to be handed the maximum sentence of five years imprisonment with state prosecutor Andreas Grossman calling him a "political con man" from whom the German people needed protection. After quoting extensively from Zündel's writings on the Holocaust, Grossman argued "[you] might as well argue that the sun rises in the West... But you cannot change that the Holocaust has been proven." In its closing arguments the defence has called for Zündel to be acquitted.
On February 15, 2007, Zündel was sentenced to a five year term in prison, the maximum sentence possible for violating the Volksverhetzung law (Section 130, 2.(3)) in the German criminal code which bans incitement of hatred against a minority of the population, which is how his Holocaust denial was interpreted by the Federal German court.
His time in pre-trial confinement in Canada was not taken into account on his sentence, but only the two years he was confined in Germany since 2005. One of his lawyers was excluded from the process for agitation and had to be carried out of the courtroom. Another lawyer, Jürgen Rieger, a leading member of Germany's NPD, was forbidden to voice petitions and ruled to put them down in writing; he let another lawyer read them aloud. Another lawyer read parts of Mein Kampf and parts of the NS race legislation aloud in his closing speech. Zündel asked for the inception of an expert's commission to examine the Holocaust. The judge in his emotional closing speech called Zündel an „Brunnenvergifter und Brandstifter, einen Verehrer dieses menschenverachtenden Barbaren Adolf Hitler, von dem er dummdreist daherschwafelt.“, in English roughly translated "well-poisoner and arsonist, an admirer of this human-despising barbarian Adolf Hitler, of whom he rambles on with brash impertinence". It is believed that the Holocaust deniers are using this process and the coming revisions to show that freedom of speech was impaired in Germany depending on the ideology of the speaker.
On February 21, the Mannheim District Court announced that Zündel will appeal against the court's verdict. On September 17th, 2007, the appeal was rejected and the verdict, as well as the sentence, of the Mannheim District Court was upheld by the German Federal Court of Justice.