Special Report

Shut Up, They Complained

A feisty conservative former publisher has struck a small blow for free speech -- by not shutting up.

By 8.13.08

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"Ezra Levant's big mouth saved Ezra Levant."

So said one long-time admirer last week, when Levant finally won -- sort of -- what many are calling "Canada's first blasphemy case in 80 years."

"Sort of" because Levant still faces 17 additional legal battles ostensibly related to his re-publication of the Danish Mohammed cartoons in 2006.

Levant is a brash conservative provocateur in a nation of smug liberal wimps. He has been making enemies for almost all of his 36 years, and they'd savor his ruination.

A defamation lawyer and one-time Conservative Party insider, Levant took over for Canada's only conservative magazine in 2004. Two years later, with violence breaking out worldwide over mediocre drawings of Mohammed, Levant chose to reprint them in his Western Standard, assuming his publication would be one among many to do so.

He turned out to be wrong about that. Levant wrote that he expected the fortnightly magazine to be behind the curve but "As we came closer to our production deadline, it dawned on us that no large-circulation publication and no TV station in the country had done so, and none would."

That seemed crazy to him because the cartoons "were the central artifact in the largest news story of the month." Levant wondered, "How could any self-respecting 'news' outlet...not display them?"

HE WAS SOON to receive an answer. Two local Muslim groups promptly filed complaints against Levant with the Alberta Human Rights Commissions.

Canada's Human Rights Commissions (HRCs) were established in the 1970s to address case-by-case discrimination in housing and employment. However, they eventually began silencing citizens who questioned the new Trudeaupian vision of Canada: multicultural, pacifist and blindly tolerant -- of liberal views, that is.

Complainants' legal fees are paid by taxpayers and tribunals don't recognize the basic principles of Common Law. Commissioners can confiscate a defendant's computer without a warrant, and have actually hijacked wifi connections to conduct dubious undercover investigations. Those found guilty can be banned for life from writing or speaking about certain subjects.

A principled opponent of censorship and bureaucratic meddling -- he'd defended an accused anti-Semite's right to express himself back in 1997 -- Levant turned down the offer of a four-figure settlement (which he calls a "shakedown") to make the complaint disappear.

Unlike most other HRC defendants, Levant fought back, most dramatically by videotaping his AHRC interrogation then posting it on YouTube.

Two years and $100,000 in legal fees later (raised through online donations at EzraLevant.com), not to mention the unfortunate demise of the Western Standard, one of the Muslim groups dropped its complaint.

What happened earlier this month was different. The second complaint against Levant went ahead, with 15 bureaucrats working the case ("I'm a major crime scene," Levant joked). On August 5, chief bureaucrat Pardeep Gundara declared Levant not guilty.

And the defendant wasn't happy about it.

IN THE NATIONAL POST, Levant wrote that those two Muslim groups hadn't actually "lost" anything.

At no cost to themselves, wrote Levant, they'd "managed to hijack a secular government agency to prosecute their radical Islamic fatwa against me. The process I was put through was a punishment in itself -- and a warning to any other journalists who would defy radical Islam."

Levant can't sue the Muslim groups who brought the complaints, and probably wouldn't have the time or money to do so if he could. Any cash left in his legal defense fund is earmarked to fight a rash of Alberta Law Society complaints against him, brought by some of those "enemies" mentioned earlier.

To top it off, Levant, along with a number of other Canadian conservative bloggers, is also being sued by a former HRC employee whose... investigative techniques they've questioned on their sites. (Full disclosure: I am also one of the bloggers being sued.)

Levant credits the blogosphere with generating most of the moral and financial support he's received. Through his website and other peoples', as well as YouTube, he has leveraged the Internet in ways other HRC defendants were either too timid or too technologically unsavvy to attempt.

He's using his newfound notoriety to speak out on behalf of other victims of the "thought police," who don't possess either his legal training or his feisty temperament.

It's perhaps ironic that the "big mouth" that's frequently gotten Levant into so many scrapes may very well help others avoid them in the future.

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About the Author

Kathy Shaidle runs the website Relapsed Catholic.