Review by John Jalsevac

June 2, 2009 ( – For the most part Americans ignore Canada – not consciously, mind you. It’s just that when you live in the midst of the broiling controversies of the world’s most hyperactive hyper-power, the nation that every other nation gossips about at the water-cooler, it’s not necessary to look elsewhere for topics of conversation – and least of all demure, “nice” Canada.

And so it was a pleasant surprise when last June the New York Times covered the growing tempest in Canada over the role of Canada’s Human Rights Commissions (HRC) in enforcing so-called “human rights” law. For all of its liberal bias, as Ezra Levant pointed out on his blog, the Times “is still the standard of what is regarded as ‘all the news that’s fit to print.’ In other words, when the NYT covers it, it’s real news and it’s big news, and it’s OK for every other journalist to cover it.”

That the Times had taken a second look at an internal Canadian debate about a little known government entity, and some of the even lesser known and finer points of Canadian law, was an extraordinary testament to the success of the fledgling movement to “denormalize” the Human Rights Commissions. And while Levant may have been surprised that the issue had become a subject of international coverage on such a scale, he really had no one to thank but himself.

Indeed, the worst thing that ever happened to the CHRCs was when a Muslim imam by the name of Syed Sohawardy decided to file a human rights complaint against a magazine published by Levant. Sohawardy claimed that he was “offended” that the now-defunct Western Standard had dared republish the so-called “Danish cartoons” that depicted the Muslim prophet Muhammad and that had been the ostensible catalyst for violent rioting by Muslims across the globe.

As Levant relates in Shakedown – his recently published book on the human rights commissions – he honestly didn’t think he’d have to spend more than five minutes dealing with what he really thought – as a reasonable, law-abiding Westerner living in what he considered a “free country” – was a mere “bureaucratic formality.” After all, the cartoons were the hot news at the time, and Canada didn’t operate according to Sharia law.

Or so he thought. “All in all,” he writes in Shakedown, “I ended up being investigated for nine hundred days by the HRC, which, according to Access to Information documents I’ve received, had no fewer than fifteen government bureaucrats working on my case.”

And that’s not counting the tens of thousands of dollars – likely even into the six figures – that Levant had to spend defending himself and his magazine. Because in the curious world of the human rights commissions, the accused has to defend himself out-of-pocket, while the accuser gets his bills footed by the government. Which means that by the time the thing actually goes before the tribunal, the accused has already lost, even if he wins – which, by the way, probably won’t happen anyway: until very recently every single “hate speech” case that had gone before the Canadian Human Rights Commission had resulted in a conviction.

As soon as Levant realized that he was being forced to walk the gauntlet of a broken human rights system that was, ironically, perhaps the greatest threat to human rights in the country (yes, even beyond the various pathetic white supremecist sites that HRC employees apparently spend their lazy afternoon hours baiting with racist comments) and that he was far from being the only victim, he never looked back. His recent book is the percolated and highly volatile result of several years spent fighting that system and learning the finer points of how it operates. The book is an informative, disturbing, and beautifully galvanizing read.

To me it really is a wonder that anyone from Canada’s HRCs has shown their face in public since the release of Levant’s book. Shakedown is a damning and deeply embarassing indictment of a government entity that has become so bloated with its own power that it seems utterly incapable of conceiving that dragging ordinary Canadian citizens through the mud of absurdly lengthy, costly, and demeaning “investigations” into whether or not someone may or may not be “offended” by something they said, just might not be in anyone’s best interests – except, of course, their own.

Shakedown has been favorably reviewed in most of the major news publications from coast to coast. And the most remarkable thing is that Levant’s sympathizers cross all ideological and political boundaries – and this even though most of the commission’s “hate speech” victims have been political and social conservatives and Christians. Indeed, perhaps Levant’s greatest accomplishment has been to transcend ideological boundaries, largely by showing that just because the commission is persecuting social conservatives now, doesn’t mean that its persecutory mechanisms and lack of due process can’t be turned on anyone, no matter where they fall on the political or ideological spectrum.

For instance, glancing at Levant’s blog I see that Christopher Hitchens – a man who can hardly be said to be sympathetic to the likes of Reverend Boissoin, a conservative Christian who was ordered by an HRC never again to speak “disparaging” words about homosexuals – said in a recent interview, “I’ve just been reading Ezra Levant – very good book. I very much applauded his stand against this, how dare they call it a human rights commission. I like the way he talks and the way he thinks.”

And why not? I can’t imagine myself ever agreeing with anything Hitchens ever says on social or religious issues – but most everyone can agree with him that the Canadian government shouldn’t be poking their noses into the lives of Canadians every time someone goes crying to the commission because they were “offended.” That’s not what grownups in a grownup country do. And we’d all like to think that Canada is a grownup country full of grownups.

In many ways that’s the whole point about Levant’s book. It isn’t just about the human rights commissions. The whole thing falls into a much, much larger context. It’s about an ideal. It’s about what Canada was meant to be, has been for so long, and must continue to be in the future – a country where basic freedoms are respected, and citizens can live their lives free of the totalitarian interference of the government – in many cases the same totalitarianism that existed in their home country and brought them to the shores of Canada in the first place. And that is a discussion that every generation must have, if only in order to keep at bay the ever-creeping incursions of the powers-that-be. And, thanks to Ezra Levant, it is a discussion that Canadians from coast to coast are having. I tip my hat to the man and heartily recommend his book.

Buy Shakedown on Amazon here.