Who's afraid of Richard Warman?
NOTE: See the update from Jonathan Kay at the end of this post.
In December, when I wrote this Op-Ed for the National Post about human rights commissions, I referred briefly to Richard Warman:
At the federal Canadian Human Rights Commission, for example, one single activist -- a lawyer named Richard Warman, who used to work at the commission himself -- has filed 26 complaints, nearly 50% of all complaints under that commission's "hate messages" section. He's turned it into a part-time job, winning tens of thousands of dollars in "awards" from people he's complained about in the past few years. Warman is a liberal activist, who likes to complain against Web sites he calls racist or homophobic. He's had the common sense to stick to suing small, oddball bloggers who can't fight back. But surely the CIC has observed Warman's winning streak, and will use his precedents to go after Maclean's.
It's odd: Mohamed Elmasry, an apologist for Islamo-fascism, using the same tools as an "anti-racist" leftist like Richard Warman. At first glance, they may seem like opposites, but they're actually identical: Both are illiberal censors who have found a quirk in our legal system, and are using it to undermine our Western traditions of freedom.
Warman sent a letter to the National Post and me, demanding an apology and retraction, and for my Op-Ed to be removed from the website. His letter was ignored.
Since then, the blogosphere has positively lit up with stories of Warman and his abuse of Canada's human rights laws and commissions. To me, the most damning was Warman's planting of "evidence" of racism in websites that he pursues for racism. That's not even "entrapment" -- as if Warman was some sort of uncover policeman. It's planting evidence; it's framing someone. (Here are some questions I wrote about this unethical conduct).
But I really didn't have a feeling for who Warman was until I saw him in this embarrassing documentary about his campaign against a harmless conspiracy theorist named David Icke. The scene in the video where Warman is sitting around with some street urchins, gleefully plotting to "humiliate" Icke told me all I needed to know: Warman wasn't about human rights, or elevating society, or the best of the human spirit. He was about revenge and dirty tricks -- and about counselling street kids to commit an assault. How ironic: Warman and his chorus of one (okay, chorus of three) claim that unfettered free speech can soon lead to actual violence. But for their own cause, it's fine if Warman himself engages not only in hate speech, but conspires in an act of violence himself. That arbitrary sense of morality is a perfect fit with the arbitrary, lawless human rights commissions.
Yesterday I read Jonathan Kay's vigorous take-down of Warman on the National Post's website, before it was removed from the website for some reason. (See UPDATE 3 below).
I don't know why the column was taken off the website, or on whose instructions. Kay wasn't the first to point out Warman's bigoted posts -- Maclean's went to town on the subject a few weeks ago. And of course the Internet has been all over the story -- let alone a website dedicated to exposing the man.
I find it interesting that although Warman's friend Warren Kinsella has spat out countless half-cocked threats or predictions of defamation lawsuits in the past month (including in response to Kay's piece), Warman himself has been virtually silent. I don't think anyone takes Kinsella's lawsuit threats seriously anymore -- I sure don't -- but Warman has pretty much kept his head down.
I think that's because it's one thing to buffalo small, poor, legally under-represented cranks -- Warman's specialty -- but it's quite another to go after larger, richer, lawyered, mainstream defendants like Maclean's or the National Post. That, and the newly exposed facts about Warman's own conduct, and the new political and media scrutiny of Warman and the human rights commissions makes this a much tougher environment for him to operate in.
I don't know the story behind the Post taking down Kay's great column. There could be a lot of reasons behind it. I'm pretty sure being afraid of Richard Warman and his nuisance suits wasn't one of them.
In the meantime, the blogosphere's interest in the column, and its republication here, will ensure that Kay's thoughtful words are read by tens of thousands of people.
P.S. There are a few doctrines of defamation law that are quietly working away against Warman. First is the rule that to ignore an allegedly defamatory comment made by one person -- to let it lie for a period of time -- and then to sue another person for making the same comment, hurts a plaintiff's case. A plaintiff is not required to sue every single utterer of an alleged defamation in order to collect damages; but to leave the scathing, detailed Maclean's article alone for weeks or months would greatly weaken a lawsuit filed against the same words elsewhere, later. (Of course, because the Maclean's article, and Kay's column, contain true facts and reasonable comments, that would end the case there, before it even went to damages.)
Another doctrine is that of reputation. Canadian law presumes that plaintiffs have good reputations, and if a publication is found to be defamatory, damages are presumed. Again, a suit by Warman would be frustrated by the defences of truth and fair comment (and likely others, like consent and qualified privilege). But even if he did win, the blogospheric pile-on in the past two months has lowered Warman's reputation -- and fairly so, by exposing what he really does and says. (Again, for me, this video said it all.) That is, even if Warman could defeat the defences of truth and fair comment, his public reputation has taken a tumble already; his unsavoury antics have been exposed; and reasonable people would hold him in lower esteem. The fact that, despite Kinsella's desperate longings, Warman has not sued anyone for their comments about him tells me that Warman is coming to terms with his new, more, uh, "mixed" reputation -- or at least he knows his old tools of human rights complaints and lawsuits won't help him this time.
I don't think many folks are afraid of Warren Kinsella's threats anymore. My own experience at the National Post is that they don't cower before defamation demand letters -- no newspaper can do that for long, before word gets out that they're push-overs for nuisance suits. Other than those of us who are worried about being assaulted by his friends, is anyone still afraid of Richard Warman?
UPDATE: My friend Jonathan Kay writes: