By John Jalsevac
CALGARY, Alberta, January 14, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On Friday, January 11, Ezra Levant, the former publisher of the now defunct conservative Western Standard magazine, appeared before the Alberta Human Rights Commission (AHRC). Levant was brought before the Commission after a complainant accused him of hate speech, citing Levant’s decision to republish in The Western Standard a series of controversial cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed.
In his opening remarks to the AHRC Levant stated his belief that it was not he, but the fundamental freedoms of speech, religion and the press that were on trial.
“I am here at this government interrogation under protest,” said Levant. “It is my position that the government has no legal or moral authority to interrogate me or anyone else for publishing these words and pictures. That is a violation of my ancient and inalienable freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and in this case, religious freedom and the separation of mosque and state.”
“It is especially perverted,” he quipped, “that a bureaucracy calling itself the Alberta Human Rights Commission would be the government agency violating my human rights. So I will now call those bureaucrats ‘the commission’ or ‘the hrc’, since to call the commission a ‘human rights commission’ is to destroy the meaning of those words.”
“We have a heritage of free speech that we inherited from Great Britain that goes back to the year 1215 and the Magna Carta,” he continued. “We have a heritage of eight hundred years of British common law protection for speech, augmented by 250 years of common law in Canada… For a government bureaucrat to call any publisher or anyone else to an interrogation to be quizzed about his political or religious expression is a violation of 800 years of common law, a Universal Declaration of Rights, a Bill of Rights and a Charter of Rights.”
“This commission is applying Saudi values, not Canadian values.”
Levant recorded the full 90 minute AHRC proceedings, and subsequently posted the video clips on Youtube and on his personal website (to see the video clips to go www.ezralevant.com) with additional commentary. He has also published a verbatim transcription of his opening remarks.
The complaint against Levant was filed by a Mr. Syed Soharwardy of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada.
The cartoons that landed Levant in the Commission were originally published in Jyllands-Posten, a Danish magazine, in 2005. Their publication famously sparked a series of riots across Europe and Asia, which resulted in over a hundred deaths, and lead to an international furor that provoked both condemnation and support for both the cartoonists and Jyllands-Posten.
Levant decided to republish the cartoons in The Western Standard in February of 2006, citing his desire to exercise his freedom of expression in the face of what he believed were serious threats against fundamental Western freedoms.
In his hand-written complaint to the AHRC Soharwardy accuses Levant and The Western Standard of “hate-mongering.” (To see the full complaint see: https://ezralevant.com/Soharwardy_complaint.pdf) “Publishing of cartoons in the Western Standards [sic] is in fact, spreading hate against me. I am openly the follower and related to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Western Standards [sic] have published cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad as terrorist [sic]. It means he had [sic] defamed me and my family because we follow and related [sic] to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).”
While opinions amongst Canadian vary on the prudence or the commendableness of Levant’s decision to publish the now-infamous cartoons, even many of those who disagree with Levant are cheering on his unapologetic defense of freedom of speech and his denunciation of what he calls the “kangaroo courts”, or the Human Rights Commissions.
In his six minute long opening remarks Levant accused the Commissions of becoming the “enforcer of the views of radical Islam,” and thereby violating the “separation of mosque and state.”
“I believe that this commission has no proper authority over me,” he said. “The commission was meant as a low-level, quasi-judicial body to arbitrate squabbles about housing, employment and other matters, where a complainant felt that their race or sex was the reason they were discriminated against. The commission was meant to deal with deeds, not words or ideas. Now the commission, which is funded by a secular government, from the pockets of taxpayers of all backgrounds, is taking it upon itself to be an enforcer of the views of radical Islam. So much for the separation of mosque and state.”
After citing the cases where a human rights commission had heard the case of a man who had been called a “loser” by the girls in his class, and where it had ruled in favor of a woman who complained that a restaurant had violated her rights for firing her as kitchen manager for having Hepatitis C, he observed, “In other words, the commission is a joke – it’s the Alberta equivalent of a U.S. television pseudo-court like Judge Judy – except that Judge Judy actually was a judge, whereas none of the commission’s panellists are judges, and some aren’t even lawyers. And, unlike the commission, Judge Judy believes in freedom of speech.”
Levant also accused the Commissions of following procedures that ensure that the accused is punished even before a formal decision of guilt or innocence has been reached. He also claimed that the Commissions fail to presume innocence until the accused is found guilty.
“The complainant,” he said “doesn’t have to pay a penny; Alberta taxpayers pay for the prosecution of the complaint against me. The victims of the complaints, like the Western Standard, have to pay for their own lawyers from their own pockets. Even if we win, we lose – the process has become the punishment.”
That the “process has become the punishment” is a fact that been experienced first-hand by a number of other prominent and not-so-prominent conservative figures in Canada, including Stephen Boissoin, an Albertan Christian pastor, against whom the AHRC recently ruled, for his having written a letter to the editor outlining Christian teachings on homosexuality. Boissoin was forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees during the drawn-out HRC procedures. In his remarks Levant repeatedly referred to the Boissoin case as evidence of the biased and unjust nature of the HRC.
The Canada Catholic League recently compiled a list of the last ten Canadian Human Rights Commission outrages. (See: https://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/jan/08010207.html) The list includes complaints brought against a disturbing and ever-increasing number of Canadian conservative and religious publications.
The case against Levant and the Western Standard was the first complaint brought against a popular and widely read Canadian publication. Recently however, the even more popular Macleans magazine, as well as internationally syndicated columnist Mark Steyn, have also been cited for possible “human rights violations,” after a number of Muslims claimed that Steyn and Macleans had “offended” them by publishing an excerpt from Steyn’s best-selling book “America Alone.” The popular online forum, Free Dominion, was also recently the subject of a human rights complaint, which was subsequently dropped. Another magazine, Catholic Insight, is also facing a battle with the Human Rights Commission over allegations of hate-speech against homosexuals.
Concerned readers should contact their MPs:
To find your Member of Parliament using your Postal Code
To search for your Member of Parliament by name
To contact Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
email: [email protected]
See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
Canada Catholic League Calls for Halt to Use of Human Rights’ Commissions in Free Speech Cases
Alberta Human Rights Tribunal Rules Against Christian Pastor Boissoin
Christian Political Party Before Human Rights Commission for Speaking Against Homosexuality
Canada’s Human Rights Commission Used to Target Conservative Website With “Hate Speech”
Christian Pastor Hauled Before Human Rights Tribunal For Letter on Homosexuality
Pastor Facing Gay “Hate Speech” Tribunal Allowed to Publish Prof.‘s Complaint
Growing Support for Alberta Pastor Facing Human Rights Hearing Over Letters Against Homosexuality
Gay Human Rights Complaint Against Calgary Bishop Dropped – Was All About Getting Media Attention