Recently, at the Manning Networking Conference, I got to say hello to Mark Steyn, my favorite columnist, who was the keynote speaker closing out the conservative movement’s annual gathering.
It reminded me that I have slackened off on something that I still think is of great importance.
Several years ago, I was among a cadre of so-called free speech bloggers who kept abreast of Ezra Levant’s being hauled in front of the Alberta Human Rights Commission for publishing the Danish Mohammed cartoons.
I also blogged along with others about the human rights complaints Mark Steyn faced when he and Maclean’s Magazine faced human rights complaints filed in three jurisdictions for an excerpt of his bestselling book America Alone.
I’ve known Ezra since 2000 and for a brief period when I worked as a communications officer for the Canadian Alliance, which was then Canada’s Official Opposition, Ezra was my boss for several months He’s a colorful, brilliant man who is funnier than most stand-up comics.
During that time, I met Mark Steyn a few times and found him to be a friendly, genuine and generous person to relatively unknown bloggers and journalists –and is as funny in person as he is in print. There is an old-fashioned decency about him, and the sense you are dealing with a man of deep principle. Of the many celebrity writers and broadcasters I have met over the years, he probably has the most right to be a prima donna –but acts the least like one.
Well, Ezra is facing a lawsuit for defamation launched by one of the young lawyers who was involved in the Maclean’s human rights complaint. The trial has been going on in Toronto.
What’s puzzling to me is how some conservative columnists seem caught in a revisionist history mode, downplaying what was at stake in those days and what is at stake today. Is it denial? Stockholm Syndrome? I dunno.
~Speaking of libel suits, I thought today would see closing arguments in the case of Khurrum Awan (variously plaintiff, witness and lawyer on my Maclean’s “human rights” complaints) vs Ezra Levant (my comrade in Canada’s free-speech wars). But I hear the final up-sums of counsel may not come now until April 7th. Further to my note last night on plaintiff’s counsel’s self-ambush, Blogwrath has a full report on Brian Shiller’s erratic cross-examination of Ezra. Shiller performed lethally and effectively every day I saw him last week, but it sounds like he lost control yesterday. Elsewhere, there is further criticism of the trial coverage by my National Post colleague Christie Blatchford, a “tough cookie” and “as able a reporter as Canada has ever produced“, who nevertheless is both falling for and peddling a sentimentalized Hollywooden version of what’s really going on and what’s really at stake. Her enthusiasm for the Ontario Press Council is perplexing.
Just to reprise what happened in 2008: a trio of “young idealists” fronting for an ugly pro-terrorist Jew-hating shakedown artist demanded “reasonable access to media” in order to force Canada’s bestselling news magazine to run a 5,000-word cover story it didn’t want to run, by a writer not of its choosing, and without any editing except for spelling corrections. If you’ve ever tried slogging through the unreadable propaganda of Mohammed Elmasry’s own magazine The Canadian Charger, you’ll know how that would have worked out for Maclean’s subscribers.
Maclean’s is a privately owned magazine. Demanding “reasonable access” to it is like a burglar demanding reasonable access to Christie Blatchford’s home. Yet the Canadian state, in its various federal and provincial manifestations, went quite a long way toward entertaining this vile proposition. Laura Rosen Cohen writes:
Had the Canadian “human rights’ regime prevailed, Mark Steyn would have been forbidden to publish in Canada.
An attempt was made to destroy Mark Steyn, and the ripple effect would have been a chill on publishing one’s opinion about, or criticizing Islam in the “free” world.
Part of the stakes of this trial include a discussion about whether or not that was a strategic objective of the proceedings initiated by the ‘young naifs’ or not.
That’s a pretty big deal.
She’s right. In British Columbia, had we been found guilty, the statutory penalty under the law would have been a lifetime publication ban on me, preventing Maclean’s and by extension anybody else in Canada from publishing anything by me on Islam, demography, multiculturalism, Europe, terrorism or anything this side of ballet criticism and gardening tips ever again.
This is not a small thing, and it is nothing to do with youth or idealism but with opportunism and muscle. I’m glad I won, and Christie should be, too – because the eunuch media with which Canada would have been left had the “idealists” prevailed is not one any self-respecting writer would want anything to do with. But it is disturbing to me, five years on and with Section 13 repealed, how many old friends like Christie, Jonathan Kay and others do not quite grasp the scale of what Khurrum Awan and Mohammed Elmasry were attempting to do in 2008.
The thing that scares me is that should a Liberal or NDP government start running the show, human rights commissions and their illiberal regimes where the process is the punishment, there is no presumption of innocence, the complainant has all their legal bills taken care of, and rules of evidence do not apply will be back in fashion again. Big time.
And lawfare continues apace too, with the help of a libel and defamation law that needs a complete overhaul. Sadly, there are those who would like to shut opposing voices down using the courts or the levers of state power to do so.
Christian expression has already been extremely vulnerable to pressures exerted in this manner. Ask Calgary Bishop Fred Henry. He had a complaint filed against him in 2005 for writing a pastoral letter in support of traditional marriage during the same-sex marriage debate.