Monday, January 14, 2008

Ezra Levant Is Not Being Persecuted By The State

I'm not going to bother linking to any of the innumerable cases of derangement and hyperventilation set off by the overnight elevation of Ezra Levant from D-List conservative libertarian to free-speech martyr. Watch his own videos of the event if you like, and join the roughly 200,000 people who have tuned in since last week.

I did, and I'm sorry, but I didn't see a Star Chamber interrogation of a persecuted journalist. I saw a junior civil servant trying to do her job, being harangued and bullied and browbeaten by a lawyer in a nice suit.

I've made it plain that I'm generally against human rights tribunals being used to police reasonable limits on free speech, and I hope and expect Levant will win in his fight with the human rights commission, but I confess that I can't talk myself into becoming a free-speech absolutist. I harbour too much uncertainty about the frontier between the territory where individuals must have a right to say whatever they like, and where the people, by enacting laws, are entitled to tell individuals to shut the hell up. I confess.

Still, I like to think I know the trampling of free speech when I see it, and Ezra's case, prompted by a ludicrous complaint arising from his decision to publish the Motoons in his Western Standard magazine (now a blog), isn't it.

This is a case of a libertarian conservative earning Paypal donations and cult-hero status by successfully going viral in an assault on one of those dreaded tentacles of the state conservative libertarians are always going on about. If it wasn't the Alberta Human Rights Commission it would be the Alberta Labour Relations Board or the Workers Compensation Board. Conservative libertarians are not just against the folly of human rights tribunals trespassing upon free speech questions they have neither the competence nor the jurisdiction to adjudicate. They're against human rights tribunals.

This is the same Ezra Levant, let's not forget, who expressed rather less than absolute support for the free speech rights of nutcase Vancouver imam Younus Kathrada not long ago. Not charging Kathadra, who'd been giving out of himself about Jews being related to monkeys and pigs and so on, would be a misguided act of political correctness, Levant wrote. "He should be made an example of, not have excuses made for him. Justice calls for it."

This same Ezra Levant is himself not above bullying when it comes to the free speech rights of people who think he's a jerk. As Warren Kinsella puts it: "The fraud, in this case, is my friend Ezra Levant. He is full of crap, actually."

No matter how the Human Rights Commission rules, Ezra will have full recourse to the courts, and undoubtedly the full support of Canada's national media. If he loses in any way at the commission level, you can bet that the ruling Conservative parties in the province and the country where he is so fortunate to live will come to his aid and his comfort and his cause.

So for all the free speech champions on the right and the left now working themselves into paroxysms about the iron heel of the state in Canada, a question or two.

Where were you when Rafika Tagi and Samira Sadagatogli were sent to jail for publishing the Mohammed cartoons? Did any of you set up a Paypal account for any of the 13 newspapers and magazines shut down for publishing the cartoons in Morocco, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Indonesia and Malaysia? Have you ever even heard the names Mohammed al-Asadi, Abdulkarim Sabra, or Yehiya al-Abed?

UPDATE: MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Dozens of Afghan journalists and activists on Saturday sought the release of a journalist detained by security officials for allegedly making blasphemous comments. The 23-year-old Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, reporter of Jahan-e Naw daily paper and a journalism student at Balkh University in northern Afghanistan, was detained three months ago. Kambakhsh was accused of mocking Islam and the holy book, the Koran, and for distributing an article which said Prophet Mohammad had ignored the rights of women.

31 Comments:

Blogger Craig said...

You are making about as much sense as Warren Kinsella in today's Post. How can you claim that hauling a writer/editor in front of a government tribunal because his/her opinion "offends" someone is not a
limitation on free speech?

To add insult to injury, HRCs lack even the most elementary forms of due process. Have you ever bothered to read anything about the way they operate?
To put them in charge of policing speech is a travesty.

Furthermore, if you are willing to concede that "the people" can tell individuals to "shut the hell up", then why the concern over the jailed Afghan journalist?
Maybe his government was right to jail him?

3:53 PM  
Blogger Fred - said...

The AHRC should have simply rejected the complaint in the first place.

Simple. Outside of its jurisdiction.

The AHRC has a problem in that it thinks it should be selectively messing with simple humour.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Craig:

You really didn't need to embarrass yourself like that. First, you might actually do some reading about these issues before coming here and explaining them to me. Start here:

http://tinyurl.com/2nzt2p

Fred: "The AHRC should have simply rejected the complaint in the first place."

That most certainly would have been the best, for everyone's sake. But if I'm not mistaken, the AHRC staff is obliged to investigate the complaint before rejecting it, no?

5:49 PM  
Blogger dirk buchholz said...

Good post Terry
Although this part where you said..."But if I'm not mistaken, the AHRC staff is obliged to investigate the complaint before rejecting it, no?"...
That's what bugs me about the whole affair why does Ezera Levant have to show up?
The AHRC can dismiss the case simply by referring to the "evidence".
Seems to me one should not even hear of the matter,never mind be required to show unless the HRC decides the complaint has merit unless
Maybe I am misinterpreting but I am somewhat troubled by the fact one can be ordered to appear before the HRC simple because someone claims that what one wrote insulted ones religious sensibilities.
Such a requirement could be interpreted,rightly or wrongly,as excessive.And seems to be what giving many the impression that Levant is being "interrogated".
That said I am in full agreement with you.
Nobody is being persecuted here and Ezera is using this for ulterior motives.A faux-martyr if ever there was one.
As Kinsella points out Ezera is a hypocrite when it comes to such matters.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

Terry,

I am not sure how exactly I have embarassed my self. I remember reading your excellent column when it first came out. It makes the case against the HRCs more eloquently than I ever could. Indeed, I don't see how what you wrote then squares with the claim on your blog that forcing Ezra to justify himself before the AHRC is NOT a violation of his free speech rights?

I doubt that you would be so sanguine if you had to defend your political views before some BCHRC functionary.

I also don't understand how you can be concerned about free speech rights, yet also condone using the law to, as you so delicately put it, shut people up. Appealing to some typically Canadian modus vivendi is hardly a serious answer to those of us who defend a more robust version of free speech.

7:02 PM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

"I am somewhat troubled by the fact one can be ordered to appear before the HRC simple because someone claims that what one wrote insulted ones religious sensibilities."

If I understood correctly, Levant was not forced to show up. He could have written a letter in response to the charge.

Does it change anything?

8:53 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Dirk: "That's what bugs me about the whole affair why does Ezera Levant have to show up?"

Very good point, although really, it's not "persecution", as you point out. Hell, you've got to show up to contest a traffic ticket if you object to it. . .

Still, he'd better win. Publishing the cartoons would have been a good idea if only to demonstrate solidarity with all those journalists in Muslim countries who have been really persecuted for doing so.

Craig: I owe you an apology for having been so testy; I've been taking quite a blasting for my positions on these things elsewhere. But I must say I did NOT claim that hauling someone before a government tribunal for holding opinions that may offend someone is "not a limitation on free speech," and the "Have you ever bothered to read anything about the way they (tribunals) operate?" was a bit of a saucy question. It should have been obvious from my Tyee column alone that I've done my fair share of reading about these things, especially about the way they operate.

I would say it is potentially a limitation on free speech to bring a journalist before a human rights tribunal. I wouldn't call it persecution, though. I have been clear more than once that what Ezrea is facing is bogus and I hope and expect he will win. I think it's far more outrageous complaint than the complaint facing Steyn.

"I doubt that you would be so sanguine if you had to defend your political views before some BCHRC functionary."

I have had to defend my views in a libel case, and believe me, examination for discovery in Canadian libel law is far more intrusive and intimidating and grueling than anything Ezra went through.

"I also don't understand how you can be concerned about free speech rights, yet also condone using the law to, as you so delicately put it, shut people up."

Let's get something straight: I don't support the use of human rights tribunals, as a general rule, in policing speech in any way. I do, however, think our Charter Rights and the Criminal Code hate speech laws can reasonably coexist (so does the Supreme Court of Canada, by the way).

You seem terribly certain about these things. I envy you. I'm being quite sincere about that. I'm quite frankly uncertain about the frontier between the territory where individuals must have a right to say whatever they like, and where the people, by enacting laws, are entitled to restrain speech.

This isn't about Ezra's right-wing politics, by the way. I want to see him walk away from this unscathed, but there is a “left wing” blog in British Columbia called the Radical Press which is also being hauled before a human rights tribunal and the complaint concerns its antisemitic content, publishing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and that sort of thing. Far and away more disgusting than anything Ezra is alleged to have done, and far more filthy than anything Steyn is alleged to have done; absolutely lurid and horrible stuff about Jews, consistently, persistently, and obsessively, and my problem (I admit this doesn't make for a very tidy argument) is that I think Canadians have been quite clear that we've had quite enough of that sort of thing and if it means his website gets shut down, tough.

Maybe this requires the Supreme Court of Canada to intervene with a more fulsome finding than the Oakes case. I don't know.

So yes, I'm conflicted about these questions. So is Canadian law. It's complicated, and I don't think we should shy away from complexity just because absolutist positions are easier to defend.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Centrist: "If I understood correctly, Levant was not forced to show up. He could have written a letter in response to the charge.

"Does it change anything?"

Well, it should ratchet down all the hype about him being hauled before a star chamber and so on. That would definitely improve the tenor of the debate the whole thing has provoked.

To be clear, Centrist, I'm against this, and I'm for Ezra, despite his motives and his ideology. but I must say that for some time now I have been quite disheartened with the way all those brave journalists in Muslim countries who were really and truly persecuted for publishing the cartoons are pretty well off everybody's radar in the "west."

It's as though free speech isn't supposed to apply in "the Muslim world."

To hell with that.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Grog said...

On Ezra's tirade against the AHRC, I agree with you completely.

As far as Ezra's publication of the cartoons, I'm a little less clear. I'm not sure that the cartoons themselves bear the kind of malice that the Boissoin letter did (for example), but by the time Ezra decided to put them to print, they were widely available through a variety of means.

One can surmise that the decision to re-publish the cartoons was in fact an act of deliberate provocation.

Had Ezra been the originating publisher of those cartoons, I'd actually be more sympathetic to his cause, but as it is, past history and behaviour on his part leaves me with the impression that he may well have had less than honorable intentions in taking that action.

6:55 AM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Grog: Levant published the cartoons in what might be called a deliberate act of defiance against the bullying, threatening, rioting and embassy burning that Muslim extremists had set out on.

It should be remembered that the rioting and craziness occurred ages after the Jyllands-Posten first published the cartoons. In fact, the cartoons were republished early on, in an Egyptian daily, for instance, and there was no uproar, with masses of people crying about about the "offence" they suffered.

The "offence" was manufactured and provoked by Islamists from Denmark: It "went viral," as we say in the age of the intertubes.

The "Muslim leaders" who filed a complaint with the AHRC are idiots. The AHRC has asked Levant to respond to their complaint. That's all thay's happened here.

I'm definitely on Levant's side in this one. I'm just saying, come on, let's put this in perspective, and let's not forget the people who really are being persecuted for "blasphemy" and related offences, right now, all over the world.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Craig said...

Dear Terry,

My apologies. My first post was indeed a little combative! And, of course, you are right about the state of the law on free speech in Canada. One possibly beneficial outcome of the Steyn and Levant cases may be to to remove from HRC tribunals the right to adjudicate speech. At least then these matters would go before proper courts.

As for the philosophical question of the limits on free speech, I would argue that simply allowing all speech short of outright incitement to violence is actually less complicated than having legislators and courts try and define what is or is not hateful, offensive, etc. After all, there are other ways to combat the Zundels of this world - open debate, ostracism, etc.

Let me just add that I enjoy your blog; and I admire your principled stand against the illiberal elements on the Canadian left.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Craig:

"I would argue that simply allowing all speech short of outright incitement to violence is actually less complicated than having legislators and courts try and define what is or is not hateful, offensive, etc."

I agree completely. I just don't think that "less complicated" is always better. I concede that I haven't sorted out my thoughts on this, as I've said, but. . .

"After all, there are other ways to combat the Zundels of this world - open debate, ostracism, etc."

And rather more direct measures. And that is also a bit of a problem, in this way: My people are Irish Catholics. I can tell you with near 100 per cent certainty that if the Radical Press / Zundel / Anti-semites of this country were coming after my crowd the way they're after the Jews, let's just say the problem would solve itself in extrajdiucial, summary fashion, right bloody quick.

In that vein, in my initial post I mentioned Labour Relations Boards and Workers Compensation Boards, which have come to represent, for some naive conservative libertarians, a kind of nanny-state protection racket foisted on employers. Remove these institutions, though, and bosses' houses would be burning down on a weekly basis.

So, as for the elimination of all human rights' tribunal jurisdiction over speech, I expect we all might be careful about what we wish for.

I also might be completely wrong about that last paragraph. . .and I would like to think that I am.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Craig said...

Dear Terry,

Fair enough, but using the HRCs to police speech also gives those hauled before them a claim that they are being unfairly persecuted; and thus, rather than offering a 'safety valve', the HRCs may end up fueling their resentments even more.

Let's hope that Ezra's case (or Steyn's) leads to some sort of public debate about the role of HRCs in regulating speech; and, more broadly, on what the limits, if any, of permissible speech should be.

PS Kinsella exemplifies our collective confusion on this issue. Apparently, he's for regulating speech that Muslims deem offensive but sees no problem in punk bands trashing Christians. And, of course, his barney doll stunt mocking Day is apparently fine.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Blazing Cat Fur said...

"PS Kinsella exemplifies our collective confusion on this issue. Apparently, he's for regulating speech that Muslims deem offensive but sees no problem in punk bands trashing Christians. And, of course, his barney doll stunt mocking Day is apparently fine." Good one Craig.

Kinsella vs Levant -this is clearly a case of the Pot calling the kettle black.

I just cannot condone restrictions on free speech.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Craig: "Let's hope that Ezra's case (or Steyn's) leads to some sort of public debate about the role of HRCs in regulating speech; and, more broadly, on what the limits, if any, of permissible speech should be."

Well, it's certainly started. My hope is that it ends well.

O Blazing One: Good to see your hiatus has ended; a belated Happy Christmas to ye.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Blazing Cat Fur said...

Thanks Gatekeeper, as always your blog is a must read.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Muslims Against Sharia said...

Canada: Freedom of Speech succumbing to Kangaroo Courts of the Human Rights Commission

Proceedings against Ezra Levant are nothing short of ridiculous, but let's consider the implications for moderate Muslims. This "investigation" will further divide Muslims and non-Muslims in Canada. It will give credence to radicals' claims that the West is at war with Islam. It will antagonize non-Muslims and moderate Muslims will be pushed towards radicalization. Regardless of the outcome, once again Islamists skillfully manipulated Dhimmi justice system and came out as clear winners. Thank you, Human Right Commission!

Muslims Against Sharia are proud to be the first Muslim group to publicly support Ezra Levant and denounce HRC inquisition
http://muslimsagainstsharia.blogspot.com/2008/01/canada-freedom-of-speech-succumbing-to.html

Sign Free Dominion Against the HRCs Petition
http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/a-free-dominion-against-the-hrcs.html

10:10 PM  
Blogger kurt said...

Speaking as a sanguine Canadian atheist I have confidence that reasonable people will prevail. Canada has a pretty good record of doing the right thing at the right time.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

kurt: Not quite on topic but as for "doing the right thing at the right time."

"Democrats, Afghanistan and Canada"

'CTV spinning the Afghan news/President Karzai responds to "Top Guns"'

"The incoherent and ignorant M. Dion"

Mark
Ottawa

4:29 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Update:

"More of M. Dion's ignorance"

Mark
Ottawa

5:43 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Oh dear: the URL.

Mark
Ottawa

5:45 PM  
Blogger Kurt Langmann said...

Mark, I empathize with you and your family. I share your ideals. And Canada has done its fair share in Afghanistan, if not more. I simply don't want anyone to believe that Canadians tolerate bigotry. We don't.

8:55 PM  
Blogger Blazing Cat Fur said...

Terry whats your take on HRC investigator Dean Steacy - "Freedom of Speech is an American Concept so I don't give it much value" & ex HRC staffer Richard Warman (The one man HRC complaints machine)? I find their behavior unsettling especially as they both operate with the sanction of the HRC.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Blazer:

"Freedom of Speech is an American Concept so I don't give it much value" is perhaps giving the Americans only slightly more credit than they're due.

It could be that Dean Steacy was just putting the point badly, but it is a valid point if what he meant was Canadians have lately come to talk about these things in largely American, "absolutist" terms; after all, Canadians have never been absolutists. But I may be giving Steacy more credit than he's due. . .

The HRCs themselves are to a great extent a function of the American emphasis on civil rights, which had a tremendous impact on Canada. The HRCs also owe their origins as much to Deifenbaker Toryism as to 70s' era liberalism and social democracy.

Let's not forget that the HRC Ezra is up against was brought in by Conservatives in 1971, and operates under laws enacted by Conservatives.

Warman is, well, Warman. As "activists" go, he's damn good at what he does. But yes, it is unsettling that so much HRC activity can ultimately be attributed to one person. Makes you wonder.

I'm waiting to hear what Alan Borovoy has to say when he talks next week on the subject. There is no clearer head on these questions that Borovoy's.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

P.S. It could also be that Steacy gets it wrong in the same way Levant gets it wrong. Freedom of speech is neither an "American" value (Steacy) nor a "Western" value (Levant). It's universal. The proposition that free speech is not absolute, whether that proposition is right or wrong, is similarly universal.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Blazing Cat Fur said...

It's a messy cloudy issue, especially in Warman's case. It will be interesting to hear what Borovoy has to say. Free Speech is a universal right hmm easy to forget that:) We can hope that Steacy is merely guilty of a poor choice of words. However well intentioned its origin, the HRC has taken on the characteristics of a star chamber in my view, it is difficult to sort out the good an institution of this type can do in light of recent events.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

"However well intentioned its origin, the HRC has taken on the characteristics of a star chamber..."

My view entirely as well, although I might not have used the "Star Chamber" term. As for my views on Levant's "persecution," they continue to be clouded (I will accept that criticism) by what I consider its proper context, the latest under-reported tragedy being this heartbreaker:

http://tinyurl.com/27r663

By the way, I was unfamiliar with the more lurid content associated with Warman's methods until I encountered the news at your place. You're very right to bring this to public attention.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Blazing Cat Fur said...

I came across the Belarus news on Novosti of all places this past weekend. Yes under-reported is being charitable. The HRC situation is very troubling especially in light of Warman's methods and their own possible complicity.

2:43 PM  
Blogger TonyGuitar said...

Al Siebring gathered my thoughts neatly in a bullets list . .

• Originally designed to arbitrate employment and tenancy issues, HRC's are now monitoring and enforcing politically correct speech and thought.
• Complainants have free access to virtually unlimited government legal resources, while defendants have to pay their own legal fees.
• HRC's are subject to "Forum Shopping." Complainants - as in the Steyn/McLean's case - file their grievances in multiple jurisdictions in the hope that at least one of them will provide relief. In a real court, defendants can only be charged once; anything more than that is called "double jeopardy". (Also known as "piling on.")
• In the case of the federal Commission, recently-released court documents show that employees have used entrapment techniques online, disguising their identities and trying to elicit "hate speech" to provide additional evidence against people who are already under investigation or the subject of a complaint.
• HRC's are used to make criminals out of people who have not broken the law. (If they had, they could have been charged under Canada's hate speech laws. But no one convicted in an HRC case has ever also been convicted under criminal "hate speech" provisions.)
• In HRC hearings, historic legal conventions are turned on their head. Instead of the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" for a conviction, complainants in HRC cases only need to claim they were offended or felt threatened. And the very claim is usually enough to elicit a conviction.
• Instead of the defendant being "presumed innocent", there is a presumption of guilt; parties accused before these Commissions have to prove their innocence. (And how do you prove you "didn't offend someone"?)
• In the 30-year history of the CHRC - the "federal" commission - no Section XIII case which has gone beyond the initial "discovery" stage has ever resulted in an acquittal of the defendant. That's a 100% conviction rate! (Would that real courts were as successful in prosecuting real criminals!)

noapologies.ca/2008/01/quit-preaching-to-the-choir.html
===========================

I observe that tribunals that have 100% punishment rate often wear very ugly labels.

No special measures law against the publishing of Muslim cartoons had been enacted, so no offense there.

Levant was covering an important story regarding previously published cartoons.

Seems he would have had to present offensive cartoons of his own making in order to transgress the AB-HRC. = TG

4:38 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

TGuitar: Thanks for providing Siebring's thorough summary of everything that's gone wrong here. Many of these points I raised in my original Tyee column on L'affaire Steyn. The double-jeopardy point is one I never considered. Lying there in plain sight, too. Sheesh.

I'd quibble with a couple of Seibring's points:

"Complainants have free access to virtually unlimited government legal resources, while defendants have to pay their own legal fees."

That's a bit hyperbolic. There's not much in the way of government resources that are brought to bear in these matters, let alone the "unlimited" kind, and defendants don't have to pay legal fees; usually, the cases are quite straightforward, and don't require lawyers. Levant's case, for instance. And setting aside the fact that he's a lawyer himself.

"HRC's are used to make criminals out of people who have not broken the law." Not quite; HRCs find in matters of statutory law, a "guilty" finding means guilty under the relevant legislation, i.e. the respondent "broke the law."

"Instead of the defendant being "presumed innocent", there is a presumption of guilt; parties accused before these Commissions have to prove their innocence."

That's pretty well how libel law works, too. To say nothing of traffic tickets.

Otherwise, the analysis is solid, I'd day. Really looking forward to Borovoy's talk this week.

Another thing just occurred to me today, and it's silly but it had comppletely slipped my mind. My first summer job out of high school? Human Rights Officer. B.C. Human Rights Commission. Youth section. Giving seminars to Chinese kids downtown, Sikh kids in South Vancouver, and Quebec kids in the Okanagan, on how to file complaints if landlords, employers or any businesses descriminated against them on the basis of their ethnicity, race, religion, etc.

Plum forgot that.

Anyway, like Borovoy says, back then (1970s) nobody figured HRCs would end up policing speech.

Cheers,

T.

9:59 PM  
Blogger Blazing Cat Fur said...

Will you be attending the Borovoy event?

1:28 PM  

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