April 2009 Archives
Here are some quick snappers about human rights commissions vs. freedom of speech.
Fundraising dinners for Rev. Stephen Boissoin
If you're as mad as I am about the bullying and censorship of HRCs, then why not do something about it? I am: I'm speaking at three fundraising dinners for Rev. Stephen Boissoin, the Christian pastor who was hit with a gag order by Ed Stelmach's HRC, banning him from talking about gay marriage for the rest of his life -- in public sermons, or even in private e-mails. Even Egale, the national gay rights lobby, vigorously opposed his prosecution.
The dinners are in Calgary on Thursday, Red Deer on Friday and Edmonton on Saturday. You can get info about tickets here -- they probably have made their catering orders already, but I bet they could squeeze in a few more chairs.
Op-Ed by Sheldon Chumir Foundation
I've written about the Sheldon Chumir Foundation before. They're my favourite kind of liberals -- they truly believe in freedom. They, too, must be deeply disappointed in Stelmach's veto for reforms. Here's an Op-Ed written by their Dan Shapiro, published in New Brunswick's Tribune:
Ezra Levant, accused of violating human rights law for publishing the infamous Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, has written a book (Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights) which tells of his experiences in the maw of the Alberta Human Rights Commission and makes a principled case for better protecting freedom of speech in Canada.
Using rulings from several jurisdictions, Shakedown depicts Canada's Human Rights Commissions (HRC) as a "grievance industry," — a weed, you might say — soaking up taxpayer dollars to combat fictitious discrimination.
And Levant yields his weed wacker with abandon: rather than pruning out only some of the Commissions' powers, he indiscriminately razes the flower bed itself.
If you are a "pruner," you will be convinced — as I am — that the hate speech provisions in federal and provincial human rights acts should be repealed. If you are a "weeder," you'll favour abolition of all HRCs. Levant's case for the former is sound, but he fails on the second front.
It should go without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that, in a democratic society, a right to "not be offended" cannot exist, and no one's religious beliefs should be insulated from criticism. It also should go without saying that HRCs should not have the power to oversee the editorial decisions of newsmagazines.
Whether or not Levant needed to publish the cartoons in order to comment on a major news story - the riots in response to the cartoons — is beside the point. What was at issue was his right to publish free from government interference. The fact that Levant faced two complaints before Alberta's HRC for publishing a news story is outrageous.
...Even the threat of a nuisance complaint is enough to chill legitimate speech on controversial issues and is thus an unconscionable restriction on freedom of speech. Levant is right: the speech provisions have to go.
As he correctly writes, free speech is a powerful weapon in the hands of the weak. For example, civil rights movements would have been impossible without the power of speech to offend the moral and legal status quo.
...He and other HRC critics' exposure of corrupt practices at the federal level, which include bureaucrats hacking a private citizen's Internet connection and posting illegal hate speech online to entrap racists, are shocking examples of the need for closer scrutiny of Commission practices.
...The book is also testament to how much a motivated — and rightly angry —citizen can move public opinion in the Internet age when he feels his rights to free speech and natural justice have been violated. Shakedown is proof of the power and importance of free speech.
Terry O'Neill in the Tri-City News
I sat next to Terry O'Neill for three days at the Vancouer show trial of Mark Steyn and Maclean's. He's a great reporter, and a great advocate for liberty. Here's his side of a newspaper debate about HRCs:
Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks? If the old dog is me, then the saying is definitely wrong, for I’ve recently changed my mind about an important subject: human rights commissions.
I used to believe that the federal and provincial governments should merely amend their human-rights laws to get rid of censorious provisions, which, by their very existence, stifle free speech. B.C.’s act has just such a section, under which a farcical kangaroo court of three commissioners play-acted a pantomime of justice last year in response to a complaint about an article in Maclean’s.
...It’s time to throw the whole works out the window and start from scratch. My debating opponent thinks the commissions play a valuable role but I believe they are far more destructive than constructive because the system is rife with injustice.
As Ezra Levant points out in his new stranger-than-fiction-but-entirely-true bestseller Shakedown, human-rights commissions from coast to coast have been used for the settlement of personal grievances of the sort in which the state should have absolutely no involvement.
Among the many outrages revealed in the book is the fact that commissions have more power to seize material and enter premises than even the police — and they don’t even need warrants.
Levant calls for a grassroots uprising against the commissions and the laws that keep them in power. Add me to the growing number of Canadians who believe human-rights commissions are unnecessary, unjust, undemocratic and unfair. Let people with real conflicts use real courts to settle them.
Terry's sparring partner is the former boss of B.C.'s human rights commission. That's not unusual -- I can count on one hand the number of Canadians who support HRCs who don't actually work for them. That's quite something in itself. Her reply is so lame I'm embarrassed to link to it, but I will. If I have more time and motivation, I'll come back and reply to it line by line, but I really couldn't be bothered right now.
Another clip from CFRA radio
Here's another video clip from my appearance on CFRA radio last weekend. I talk about how HRCs try to denormalize or stigmatize their targets -- and how I decided that I wasn't the abnormal one, the unCanadian one, the illegal one, the immoral one. The human rights commissions were! And once I realized that, everything else came naturally.
I like Lindsay Blackett. Unlike the other 82 members of the Alberta Legislature, he has been a vocal champion of freedom of speech, and he's called BS on the counterfeit "human right" not to be offended. The fact that he just happens to be the cabinet minister in charge of the human rights commission was perfect. And the fact that he's black is even more perfect -- about 100% of the advocates of these fake human rights happen to be middle-aged guilty white liberals who look pretty much like Barbara Hall.
Earlier this year, Blackett made some very bold pledges to reform Alberta's HRC, to bring it into accord with Alberta sensibilities. That is: no more cases about hurt feelings.
So I was truly sad to see Blackett blackballed by his own premier yesterday.
Here's Rick Bell's perspicacious assessment of things, in today's Calgary Sun. I really don't want to leave out any of it:
In Alberta, if you've survived the swine flu, you still can't hurt anyone's feelings...
Yesterday, Lindsay Blackett, the province's main man on human rights, sounds like he's had almost as bad a day as a Calgary Flames fan, which he is.
You see, the one right he pushed with passion is freedom of speech and such a central democratic idea is shot down by Tory MLAs.
Lindsay wanted to change the law so the province's human rights commission wouldn't play censor when someone decides they're offended by the opinion of someone else.
Even though he brings forward the recommendation with common-sense reasoning it is given the thumbs-down. Lindsay loses and the stench of an oppressive political correctness remains.
Yes, quite a few Tory MLAs do not want us to have freedom of speech. They want people to have the right to take other people to the human rights commission whenever individuals think what someone says is likely to expose them to hatred or contempt, whatever that means.
A couple months ago, Lindsay tells the Sun the human rights commission should stick to fighting discrimination in housing and access to services and jobs.
The commission's job shouldn't be refereeing debates. People should have the ability to say what they think and others can argue for the thoughts they have.
Lindsay figured there would be no problem. This was Democracy 101.
There was a problem.
"There was no consensus. I can have my opinion but, when it comes to caucus, the caucus decision goes forward," says Lindsay, of the caucus of his Tory colleagues and their thumbs-down.
Does he still believe what he said he believed?
"I believe in what caucus believes. To say anything else would be divisive. I once wanted a new pair of skates, but I didn't get them. We don't have time to sit and mope," says a man who has coached Timbits hockey.
"We'll take the best of what we have and move on. It's still better than what we had."
Sad. Very sad.
Premier Ed, Lindsay's boss, tells us what goes down in a read-between-the-lines way.
The provincial Tories felt standing pat "did provide protection and ..."
Now read on, read on.
"I'm just happy with the fact we have a very diverse caucus, people from so many different backgrounds and it's the right decision."
So ... connect the dots ... the Tory MLAs "from so many different backgrounds" kibosh free speech.
Let them stand up and reveal themselves. They won't. They will hide behind the closed doors of Toryland.
So will those groups who bellyached to the MLAs against the change because they don't understand what Canadian freedoms are supposed to be about.
What we get instead is mealy-mouthed mumbo-jumbo where Alberta "will balance freedom of speech with our responsibility to others." What the hell does that mean?
Changing the law "could have serious consequences" and "recognizing the responsibilities that come with freedom of expression is also important." Huh?
Total unadulterated bull but this is what you get when the provincial Tories harbour Conservatives of convenience, opportunists wearing the party colours to score a spot on the winning team and more than willing to kowtow to the whiners. Funny thing. The one thing Lindsay doesn't propose, parental rights, is approved with flying colours.
...And Premier Ed predicts a "considerable amount of debate" on human rights.
Ironic. Lots of debate. No suprise. The legislature is the one place where you can hurt someone else's feelings.
How sad. The one bright light for freedom in the Alberta caucus, the one honest man, was tasked with doing the media circuit to cover for Premier Ed Stelmach's authoritarian streak. In both his interview with Bell, and his radio interview with Rob Breakenridge, he came across as obviously conflicted -- obviously not believing a word he was saying.
Of course he doesn't. He was doing his partisan duty: lying for his premier. Lindsay Blackett doesn't believe in censorship. But he's pretending he does, because Stelmach ordered him to say so. It truly sounds awful to hear a man go through with such a mission. It's terrible to watch someone torch his own self-respect to please some political boss. It's awful to watch -- I can only imagine how awful it feels.
I was tough on Stelmach, because he deserves it. It's one thing to do nothing about HRCs -- like the federal Conservatives. I can even understand it, if I disagree with it -- it's inertia. But to actually say you're going to reform something, and to make it worse, as Stelmach has done? Appalling.
I was tough on Blackett only in this way: when someone is so obviously humiliated by his premier, should he really participate in his own abnegation? Isn't this the textbook example of where one ought to resign on principle?
But things got even more interesting after the interview was over. Two senior Tory organizers called me afterwards to tell me how Stelmach had handled Blackett was exactly how he has handled any other Tory MLA who has criticized Stelmach's disastrous Chavez-style attack on the oil industry -- the royalty scheme that has driven tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars into Saskatchewan.
It's not that Stelmach just can't handle dissent -- political parties have to have some discipline. But this isn't dissent. It's mere debate -- merely having other opinions.
I won't bore my readers with the petty intrigues of Stelmach's premiership. But it was interesting and depressing to learn that Blackett, and his love for free speech, was merely the latest roadkill on Stelmach's disastrous reign.
This morning CBC's The Current aired an interview with me about my book, Shakedown. I have received an enormous amount of feedback on it from across the country. I had no idea the show had such reach!
For months, Blackett had been musing about reforming Alberta's out-of-control human rights commission -- the one that put me through a 900-day prosecution for publishing some cartoons, and the one that sentenced an Alberta pastor to a lifetime speech ban about gay marriage, even banning him from giving church sermons or writing private e-mails about it.
Here are Blackett's bold comments in the Calgary Sun, just two months ago:
"People have the right to say what they believe and Albertans strongly believe in that right," says Lindsay.
"We've got to try and find what was the purpose of the human rights commission to start with back in 1972."
"For me, it's back to the future and the simplicity of what the human rights commissions is supposed to be. It was originally just intended to provide protection against discrimination on grounds of race, colour, creed, religion and so on with respect to employment, accommodation and access to services. That's it."
"It wasn't about hurt feelings. The reason a lot of human rights commissions are disrespected across the country is because they've forgotten that.
"We want the commission to be a quasi-judicial body that has some teeth, that has some credibility but doesn't operate like a kangaroo court."
..."People shouldn't feel they can't come to Canada, like a university professor who talks about a subject matter and then there are reprisals," says the cabinet minister.
"They should have the ability to say what they say and somebody should have their ability to have the counter argument. That is what a free and open society does. Let's get away from trying to mediate everybody's feelings."
Lindsay talks about being turned down by a girl at a school dance with all his pals watching.
"You feel about two inches tall. I guess maybe I should have taken her to the Human Rights Commission because I had hurt feelings. Where does it end?"
His plans have not been taken to Tory MLAs for a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, but he is preparing and sounds confident.
"We haven't talked about it at caucus or cabinet yet, but I've already gone through a few steps. Generally there's support, the support to make a change and do something and not just sit back and say because it's a tough subject we should stay away from it.
"I don't think provisions for more freedom of speech are a problem. I think people on both sides of the political spectrum appreciate it."
That's pretty good stuff -- he even calls his own agency a "kangaroo court".
Blackett said all of this in public. And now Stelmach is rubbing his face in it, refusing Blackett to bring in these reforms.
How can Blackett not resign? He has publicly denounced his own agency, and outlined its problems, but his premier refuses to act. How can he administer something he knows is unjust?
I know why Stelmach wants to keep Blackett on the job -- because Blackett is black, and thus gives the government a politically correct patina. Stelmach wants Blackett to smile -- but not to think. He's window-dressing. The one thing Blackett has worked on the past year, the one thing he stuck his neck out for, is the one thing that his own premier has sand-bagged him on.
Here are the changes that Stelmach approved. He's actually giving the HRC a $1.7 million raise.
That's right. In the face of their abusive conduct, their bullying and censoring, their Islamic fatwa against me for publishing a cartoon, and their atheist fatwa against Rev. Boissoin, he's actually rewarding them with a 25% pay hike.
Look at the bottom of that backgrounder if you want to see just how dense Stelmach is. In his rationale for clotheslining Blackett's proposals to dump the censorship provision, Stelmach writes this incomprehensible bumf:
Alberta's human rights legislation will balance freedom of speech with our responsibility to others.
Huh? I know about my freedom of speech. It is an ancient, inalienable right. It happens to be enshrined in Canada's Bill of Rights and Charter of Rights. But this "responsibility to others"? That's a legal concept now? So my freedom of speech -- my right to publish a magazine, Rev. Boissoin's right to give a sermon -- is limited by some new responsibility to -- I love this part -- "others"?
So I can't publish a magazine if someone "other" than me doesn't like it. So Rev. Boissoin can't give a sermon if someone "other" than him doesn't like it.
And then there's this gem:
Jurisdictional issues are complex, but recognizing the responsibilities that come with freedom of expression is also important.
That's not just grammatically novel, it's legal junk. I've read our Charter a dozen times. Where is the list of responsibilities that I have to submit to before Stelmach will let me have my freedom of expression?
Hey, don't knock Stelmach. As he boasts -- in the weirdest, most self-conscious "official biography" I've ever read -- he almost went to law school. I know some people who boast they went to law school. I know some folks who boast they didn't go to law school. I've never met anyone so insecure intellectually, with such an inferiority complex, that they say they almost went, in some sort of plea to be accepted by the cool kids. That's just weird.
But when you listen to him talk about human rights -- listen to this audio clip of him in the last election -- you can understand.
Look, the premier doesn't have to be the smartest man in the province. He can hire the smartest men in the province. He just needs to show some judgment and leadership. Instead, I really think he wrote this incoherent crap himself.
My favourite fabrication has to be this one:
Government found that removing "publications" from the Act could have serious consequences.
That's just a lie. Ontario and other provinces' HRCs don't have "publications" in their censorship laws. In fact, even the abominable section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act only applies to the Internet and telephones, not to publications. I'm not saying that's any better. I'm just saying that it's a lie to suggest that there are "serious consequences" to removing this censorship power -- other than the serious consequence of freedom.
Look, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Stelmach has made Alberta the worst-governed province in Canada. That was evident in his recent budget -- a $5-billion deficit when oil is still at $50/barrel. Ralph Klein chalked up back-to-back billion-dollar surpluses when oil was in the $30 range. But then Ralph didn't have Stelmach's brainwave of driving energy companies to Saskatchewan through punitive royalty schemes. That province is growing, not in a recession like Alberta is. Stelmach spends $11,000 per man, woman and child in Alberta. "Liberal" Dalton McGuinty spent $8,500/person, and Bob Rae's biggest budget as NDP premier of Ontario only spent $5,300 adjusted for inflation.
My point is that Stelmach isn't just stupid (and as his bio suggests, extremely sensitive about it), but he's hardly a conservative.
Alberta Tories are rarely conservative when it comes to spending -- just like with Hollywood celebrities, being rich is a good solution to making stupid decisions.
But Alberta Tories generally have some common sense on more basic issues, like freedom of speech. Lindsay Blackett had that common sense. But Ed Stelmach cut him down to size today.
It's a political and personal humiliation for Blackett, but who cares -- he can resign if he doesn't like it. The rest of us Albertans have nowhere to go to escape from Stelmach's blunders.
Send a note of consolation to Blackett, by clicking here. Ask him how he can continue to serve as minister of what he called a kanagaroo court, now that Stelmach has vetoed his key recommendation.
And as to Stelmach himself -- why waste your time writing a letter? If he ignores his only black cabinet minister on human rights, why would he listen to you?
In my book, Shakedown, I briefly mention the bizarre history of Canadian "human rights" organizations propping up anti-Semitic groups -- including that the Canadian Jewish Congress helped build up the "Canadian Nazi Party" in the 1960s.
Ezra Levant and the Canadian Jewish Congress have not always seen eye to eye. Nonetheless, his book Shakedown does open the door to a potentially serious debate on human rights law.
The debate would have more hope for success were Levant to recognize that he has taken certain liberties with some facts.
Should the book go into a second edition, I am hopeful that Levant will address the concerns raised by Citizen writer Andrew Potter in his generally positive review. Potter states that "Of more concern is that clarity, fairness and perhaps even accuracy are often sacrificed in the greater service of the author's polemical objectives."
Mr. Potter cites Levant's claim, based on an article printed in Maclean's magazine at that time, that in 1966 the Canadian Jewish Congress helped fund the fledgling Canadian Nazi Party. Potter correctly points out that the only "bankrolling" expended by a private detective hired by the Congress to expose the Nazi group was money put out to purchase a bottle of rum. Between "rum" and "bankrolling" is more than a nuanced difference. It is the difference between accuracy and fiction.
Hopefully Mr. Levant will see fit to correct this for future editions.
Rabbi Reuven Bulka
Nice try. I suppose I should be happy that the CJC has moved away from censoring their political opponents with "hate speech" charges, and now merely write letters to the editor like normal people. But Rabbi Bulka shouldn't trust Burny's revisionist history. Here's why -- as written in my reply in today's Citizen:
In 1965 and 1966, the Canadian Jewish Congress helped organize the fledgling Canadian Nazi Party. That sounds crazy, but it's true, and I wrote about it in Shakedown, my new book about Canada's human rights commissions.
In a letter to the editor in the Citizen last week, the CJC's current co-president, Rabbi Reuven Bulka, called my book's description of the CJC's role "fiction." He said all the CJC did for the Nazis was buy them a bottle of rum.
It's true that the CJC did buy drinks for Nazis in the 1960s. That's pretty strange in itself, and I'd like to hear more of Rabbi Bulka's thoughts on spending Jewish charitable donations that way. But the CJC did a lot more than that: they hired an ex-cop named John Garrity to go to work for the Canadian Nazi Party.
Garrity helped organize that rag-tag band of losers, though they never amounted to anything except for fodder for the press.
There were only a dozen active Nazis when Garrity joined them and they weren't really a political party. He called them "harmless misfits," and they were -- their leader, John Beattie, was a nervous, gaunt, unemployed 24-year-old clerk who spent much of his time dodging angry Jews who tried to beat him up. (One of Garrity's jobs was to help Beattie escape street fights.)
Garrity brought more than just rum to the Nazis. He brought with him pretty much the only organizational talent the group had. They put him in charge of membership. Garrity called himself the "Heinrich Himmler" of the party, and a "Nazi leader for the Jewish Congress."
I'd like Rabbi Bulka's thoughts on that, too.
Of course, Garrity helped his paymasters at the CJC, too, giving them information about the names of party members and donors. And when Garrity finally quit the Nazis, he wrote a tell-all about his adventure in Maclean's magazine.
Garrity larded that report with personal insults toward Beattie and the Nazis. But he did acknowledge that they had never done, or even contemplated doing, anything illegal. All of the violence he witnessed was directed at Beattie, usually by Jewish vigilantes. "Sadly, it is the ... anti-Nazi extremists who, in their attempts to destroy Beattie, provide him with most of the publicity he craves. If it weren't for the riots and the assaults and the public protest meetings they hold, there'd be no real news in Beattie," Garrity wrote.
And that is the importance of this story and why I put it in my book about human rights commissions. Beattie hadn't done anything illegal. He was just a loser who believed in a discredited ideology. But the CJC wanted to bring in political censorship laws and I believe they needed to build up the threat to persuade Parliament to abridge Canada's freedom of speech.
Garrity puffed up a group of Nazi nobodies into a national menace, first through organizational support and then through spectacular media publicity. And, sure enough, Parliament enacted section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which censors offensive speech.
That's become a pattern. Twenty years after the Canadian Nazi Party vanished, CSIS, Canada's spy agency, inserted an operative named Grant Bristow into another rag-tag racist group called the Heritage Front.
Unlike Garrity, Bristow didn't play second-fiddle.
He became the boss, turning the Heritage Front into Canada's leading white supremacist group. This time it wasn't just Jewish money that was spent propping up neo-Nazis -- all taxpayers paid for it.
Which brings us to the present day -- and back to Rabbi Bulka and the section 13 censorship law. Canada's largest customer of section 13 is Richard Warman, who has been the complainant in all but two cases heard by the tribunal this decade. The CJC was so impressed that they gave Warman an award.
But, in a stunning human rights tribunal ruling last month, Warman himself was rebuked for posting anti-Semitic comments on Stormfront, a neo-Nazi website, including a message calling Jews "scum." Warman has stated that he was attempting to gather information on real Nazis, but the tribunal called his actions "disappointing and disturbing," and ruled that he risked encouraging more hateful messages himself.
Warman's actions appalled the tribunal, but apparently not the CJC. Just as the CJC did with Garrity, Nazi opponents continue to stir up neo-Nazi incidents -- as if there aren't enough real threats to Jews as it is.
Perhaps Rabbi Bulka can explain that one, too.
I'm pleased that the Citizen gave me so much room to reply. In doing my research I found out a lot more about the CJC's role in building up the Nazi Party -- one of the craziest stories I've ever come across. I think it's fascinating from so many angles: politically; religiously; legally; historically. It really is stranger than fiction. I think there's enough material there to form an entire book in itself -- especially when added to the CJC's discreditable conduct in the Grant Bristow affair, and their ongoing, unseemly relationship with Stormfront member Richard Warman. Incredibly, the CJC still stands by Warman even after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal condemned him for his anti-Semitic propaganda. You'd think that would be something the Jewish Congress might care about.
My only quibble with the Citizen is with the headline they put over the op-ed: "Neo-Nazis are best simply ignored". I don't believe that and that's not the message of my op-ed. It's a false dichotomy to set up the only two alternatives as "ignoring" Nazis, or doing what the CJC does (building them up, then getting the government to prosecute them). I think there are plenty of other options, such as rebutting and debating neo-Nazis, campaigning against them, teaching against them, politicking against them, etc. That takes more work than the lazy CJC would do -- they're too busy campaigning against global warming.
Part of me hopes that Burny will write another historically revisionist reply for Rabbi Bulka to sign, so I can take another whack at them. But the more collegial part of me hopes that Rabbi Bulka will cut his losses and stop covering for his organization's bad behaviour 40 years ago -- and their bad behaviour today.
I spent Saturday in Ottawa promoting Shakedown. First I taped Nick at Night's radio show that aired later on Ottawa's CFRA. My friend James videotaped it. Here's a segment:
Then I did two events at the Ottawa Writers Festival. The first was a panel on Alberta's place in Confederation -- which focused on the oil sands. Debbie Gyapong was there, and here's her summary:
...there was an exhibit of photographs of the oil sands showing huge tailings ponds and giant pits. Ezra joked that you could see his apartment from the photographs.
But he also launched into a most interesting defence of the project, noting that yes, oil is dirty, but this is the cleanest oil when you consider it is done by companies which have a concern for the environment, that pay their workers good union wages, and so on. Then he compared the oil coming from the regimes of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Sudan and Nigeria. Needless to say, Ezra was on a roll detailing the terrorist funding, thuggish behavior, genocide and kleptocracy of these countries. The photographer happened to be present and I can't even remember what the poor mild-mannered green-inspired chap said because Ezra was on a roll and made mincemeat out of him by pointing out that he had taken the photographs from a plane. Then he asked the guy what social programs he would like to see cut if the oil sands were put out of business. He also accused him of picking an easy, accessible target, noting that he would not be allowed to fly over Saudi Arabia or Iran to show how these countries treat the environment.
This is so true, the whole principle of the easy target in the west: you know, poke a finger in George W. Bush's eye or accuse Dick Cheney of "torture" or America of not being perfect, majoring on the light gray while ignoring the horrors of other countries. Worse than that, not only ignoring the horrors but accusing those who do have the courage to name them of some phobia or other or racism or hatred.
Ezra would have none of it.
It was fun to talk about a subject other than human rights commissions. Defending the oil sands was a good break -- and no less controversial! But it's true: it's easy to pick on the oil sands. But would the oil sands many enemies dare (or, frankly, even bother) to criticize the morality of the oil being pumped from Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran, Venezuela, Russia, or even Mexico? Because that's the reality: the world will continue drinking oil whether or not the oil sands exist. They'll just buy it from less ethical countries. It's like the foolish campaign that drove Calgary's Talisman Energy out of the Sudan oil consortium. So the one, Western, liberal company is gone, but the oil continues to be pumped -- by Chinese, Indian and Sudanese companies. I'm not sure what the "ethical" protesters achieved, other than feeling good about themselves. Darfur is worse than ever; there is no Western company no the ground trying to moderate the regime's bad behaviour. The anti-Talisman activists are too cowardly or too lazy to take on the Chinese oil company, and if they tried they'd find out what it's like to oppose the Chinese government -- a little more difficult than opposing a Canadian company.
That's my point about the oil sands. It's not the oil sands or nothing. It's the oil sands or Saudi Arabia. I'll choose the oil sands every time.
Like many of my readers, I have read a lot of Ezra Levant on human rights commissions and seen a lot of interviews, so I don't always expect to hear new stuff when I go seem him talk about this important issue. But he sure delivered some great stuff yesterday in Ottawa.
...Ezra said he was pleased to suddenly be allowed into polite company, especially in a writers' festival featuring literary writers. He spoke of how he was in some ways a true liberal in the sense that liberal and liberty share similar roots. He said that he was certain that most Liberals also still cared about liberty and that's why the ideas in his book Shakedown are popular across the political spectrum.
...He also said he was a gay activist and a womens' rights advocate in addition to being a liberal.
That's because the left, many gay rights organizations and feminists were silent on the dangers posed to gays and women by radical Islam.
I guess that makes me a gay activist too. ...I abhor any form of bullying or marginalization of people simply because they are gay or women or Muslim or Jewish or black or whatever. And alarm bells are going off for me when I hear about the rise of gay bashing incidents in places like Amsterdam that get little or no attention in the mainstream media. Lots of people probably still think Amsterdam is a haven for relaxed social mores and tolerance.
In gay activist mode, Ezra pointed out that Islamists are "so conservative on sexual issues it makes Stephen Harper look like Liberace."
That got lots of laughs. Fred and I agreed it was worth the price of admission.
Another thing that had people laughing was his riffing on Ernst Zundl's hard hat. He noted that Zundl wore the hard hat everywhere. He asked what people would think of him if he were standing before them wearing a bicycle helmet and wore that bicycle helmet all the time. You'd think he was a nut, he said.
He said the day the Western Standard printed the Danish cartoons was like a Bar Mitzvah.
"It was the day the magazine finally became a man."
....He also called his human rights case a "one man stimulus program" for lawyers and government bureaucrats. Heh heh heh.
When asked about limits he would pose on free speech he mentioned forgery, copyright laws, defamation, and official secrets. "The act of expression is not the central element," he said.
Instead it is the fraud, theft, destruction and treason that are illegal.
He described himself as a "slightly huskier Erin Brockovich."
Interestingly, he said most of the cases now brought before the Alberta HRC are from white guys who have been injured on the job and want to top up their severance pay with a $5-6K pay out. For big companies its less expensive to pay the "shakedown" than it is to fight the complaints.
I had a ball at the Writers Festival. It was great to be at such a prestigious event, in such good company.
Last night, I attended Premier Brad Wall's annual dinner, along with 1,250 other supporters. Saskatchewan has the strongest economy in the country right now, with positive economic growth, tax cuts and a surplus. If all it took to buck the recession were natural resources, then Alberta wouldn't have its largest deficit in history and Russia's economy would be growing, not imploding. It's not mere resources that determines wealth -- it's business-friendly policies, and Saskatchewan has got 'em.
In the middle of the day was my book talk and signing at the North Saskatoon Business Association. What a great group of folks, including their legendary organizer, Shirley. Here is a brief but friendly report on the meeting from a local news website, and here is a longer article by a reporter with the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, that also ran in Regina's Leader-Post. Some excerpts:
There's an old saying, often quoted by people in the publishing business: "Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel."
That's exactly what transpired in 2006, when a Calgary imam used a section of Canada's hate-speech laws to attack Ezra Levant, former publisher of Western Standard magazine, through a complaint to a Alberta Human Rights Tribunal.
At a luncheon organized by the North Saskatoon Business Association Thursday, the Calgary-based lawyer and media commentator entertained and educated a group of Saskatoon business people with the story of his battle against the human rights bureaucracy....Levant... researched and wrote a book, Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights.
Although he's usually known for his right-wing views, critics and commentators at both ends of the political spectrum have praised it.
Every province and territory in Canada has a human rights commission, and there is also a federal level of the bureaucracy. Though well-intentioned when they were created in 1977, they have become "kangaroo courts" used as a tool of censorship, a route to easy money or a weapon of "soft jihad" by radical Muslims, Levant said.
"It's a stimulus package for lawyers and bureaucrats."
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission is not exempt from the problem, he said.
"Saskatchewan's commission is crazy. It's not as prolific as in B.C., but some of the cases here are so objectionable, if it was brought to the attention of the Sask. Party government in a convincing way to show the problems -- not just the substance but along with it the process -- I think this government would be more open to (changing it)."
I thought that was a very sympathetic report of a pretty spicy speech -- I could tell from the reporter's question in the Q&A session that she had a personal commitment to the journalistic ideal of freedom of the press.
I'm off to Ottawa now, where I"ll be speaking (twice!) at the Writers Festival tomorrow, once at noon (on a panel about Western Canada) and once at 4 p.m., all about Shakedown. You can get details here. Please come by to say hello if you can!
Here are some upcoming live events in support of my book, Shakedown. Come if you can!
Saskatoon, Thursday, April 23
I'm speaking at the North Saskatoon Business Association at noon. Tickets are $25 and include lunch, which sounds like a bargain to me! You can get more details and register here.
Ottawa, Saturday, April 25
I've been invited to the Ottawa International Writers Festival this weekend. I'm speaking at two events on Saturday. The first is a panel discussion on the West's place in Canada -- what a great subject! It's at noon, featuring Gordon Pitts and moderated by Richard Cleroux of the Hill Times. Tickets are $15.
The second is all about my book. It's at 4 p.m., hosted by Alison Buchanan. It's also $15.
Calgary, Thursday, April 30
This one (and the next two) are very special events. They're dinners to help a victim of Alberta's human rights commission -- Rev. Stephen Boissoin. As readers will recall, because he expressed his religious views on gay marriage, Rev. Boissoin was punished with a six-year government prosecution, and then an outrageous order -- punitive fines, a lifetime ban on expressing his views in public or in private, and an abominable order to publicly renounce his religious views. Seriously -- you can read the details here. Tickets are $100, with proceeds going to pay for Rev. Boissoin's appeal. For more info, and to register, click here.
Red Deer, Friday, May 1
Second fundraising dinner for Rev. Stephen Boissoin's legal defence, 6 p.m. Details here.
Edmonton, Saturday, May 2
Third and final fundraising dinner for Rev. Stephen Boissoin's legal defence, 6 p.m. Details here.
Winnipeg, Thursday, May 7
Winnipeg South Conservative Association, Caboto Centre, 6 p.m. Details here.
New York City, Tuesday, May 19
Evening reception -- details to come.
Victoria, Friday, May 22
Victoria Conservative breakfast, 7 a.m. $20. Details here.
Nanaimo, Friday, May 22
Lunch at the Coast Bastion Inn, 1:30 to 3:30. Tickets are $25.75. Register here.
Here are some quick tid-bits from recent days that mention Shakedown:
I am appalled by the sanctimonious social-policy-making of various human rights bodies across Canada, whose roles seem to have morphed from defenders of those unfairly treated in jobs and housing to advocates for anyone with a personal grievance, and on to thought police. Too Orwellian to bear. So, although I may have disputes with both Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant, who were raked over the corrective coals by various HRCs, I support them entirely in their decisions to say what they said, think what they thought and resist the quasi-fascistic authority of these extra-legal bodies.
And don't get me started - though I seem to be a self-starter here - on the pusillanimous reaction of much of our press, who should be the most resounding advocates of free speech - to the Danish cartoons business of a few years back. Some media claimed that they refrained from republishing them on the grounds that they were sensitive to the offense some Muslims might take. But last time I looked, the right not to be offended was not considered among the great human freedoms. If it were, nobody could say or write anything very interesting or provocative. Don't call it sensitivity (not in itself a bad thing) when it's really cowardice.
Eye Weekly (links from the original):
[Shakedown] at least has half-a-memoir worth of story to tell, based on the author’s experience of being dragged through a government-sanctioned system that spent 900 days chewing over (ultimately dismissed) complaints about infamous Danish cartoon reprints in his own crotchety political magazine, the Western Standard. Predictably, the parochial voice of that publication is also the voice of Shakedown — leaving Levant’s off-the-cuff stand-up routine about the farcical aspects of Human Rights Commissions to live appearances, like earlier this week at the Indigo store at the Royal Bank Plaza. (Comic relief provided by the fact that Indigo had kept that contentious Western Standard issue off its racks.)
The fact that Levant’s battle owes plenty to Web 2.0 — especially YouTube clips of his initial HRC showdown — doesn’t go unacknowledged: “If all this had happened In 1996 instead of 2006, few would know anything about my battle. Even if I had videotaped the interrogation, so what? At most, I’d have been able to get a short excerpt on a TV newscast. Even if the people who saw it found it outrageous, there would have been no outlet through which to channel their anger.” PayPal also get props for helping Levant build a war chest to fight radical jihadists. “In short, the internet saved me.”
...Playing up the fact that he’s got the entire political spectrum on his free-speech side is part of the sales pitch: still, Levant can’t be as surprised as he lets on that Shakedown earned plaudits in EYE WEEKLY senior editor Edward Keenan’s Notebook column this week, given how similar sentiments have been expressed in those pages over the last 16 months — including a flattering feature story on Levant last June...
NOW Magazine, Eye's competitor, is the only pro-censorship magazine in Canada, as far as I can tell. Which is sort of like being the only chicken in the country who is pro-Colonel Sanders. Here's what NOW said about that same Indigo book signing:
Book monopoly that Heather built scrapes the bottom of the barrel with book signing for Western Standard bearer and one-time Reform party hack Ezra Levant and his one-man crusade against "corrupt" human rights tribunals.
My first thought upon reading this was gratitude -- perhaps their publicity was partly to credit for the great turn-out at that event.
My second thought was a flashback to my strange radio debate with NOW's editor, Susan Cole, who has a very intricate system of rules for who is allowed to make what jokes -- so intricate, she herself hasn't quite figured it out yet. She says only black people can make black jokes, for example. But what about people like Barack Obama, who is half black and half white? Cole hadn't quite got around to writing down all the rules for comedy. It gets complicated -- and I bet we'll see the return of words like quadroon and octaroon. After all, if you're rights are based on your race, your race -- always an inexact business -- becomes very important. In Cole's world, there would be thousands of rules about who can say what -- and a human rights commission to enforce those rules.
My third thought, which I entertained for a moment too long, was that NOW Magazine has offended me under section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. I'm not talking about NOW's charge that I'm a "one-time Reform party hack", which actually makes me quite sentimental. No, I mean their allegation that I'm on a "crusade". A crusade, people! Crusade? I'm Jewish!
I need to blow my hate crime whistle. Stop hate-criming me, NOW Magazine! (Susan, that's a joke. Is it okay?)
Dan Gardner on the Ottawa Citizen's blog:
In a liberal democracy, censorship not only fails, it does precisely the opposite of what it's intended to do: There is no better promotion for a person, film, idea, or book than the threat or reality of censorship.
I've been hammering on that point for some time now because, as obvious as it is, plenty of people still don't get it and so they continue to play into the hands of those who do.
George Galloway gets it. Mark Steyn gets it. And Ezra Levant? As perfectly illustrated by the following ad for his new book -- a best-seller, by the way -- he really gets it.
Just Right's review:
...At first I was reluctant to start reading [Shakedown]. I’d read nearly everything he’s written and spoken on the subject of "Human Rights" Commissions and free speech. I religiously follow his web-site along with several others that concentrate on these issues. I’ve written over seventy-five blog posts myself.
But, to my pleasant surprise, once I started reading "Shakedown" I found I couldn’t put it down. There was some new material though, mostly, it was a familiar story. But the familiar stuff was freshly presented, and; the Kafkaesque nightmare that our so-called "human rights" bureaucracy has forced its victims to endure and the threat it poses to our liberty remain endlessly fascinating. Also, reading Ezra’s book has refreshed my contempt for the official "human rights" industry and for its blatant abuses of fundamental rights.
"Shakedown" is an important book that will be instrumental in the fight to force the repeal of Section 13 of the Human Rights Act and the reform of our "human rights" bureaucracies.
One gripe: I expect that I and many, many others will be using "Shakedown" as a reference in the months and years to come. And this is a "book", not a "pamphlet". A useful reference "book" should have an index, which I understand is fairly simple to more or less automatically generate these days.
Fair point -- I've had a few other folks mention that. McClelland & Stewart just ordered a third printing of the book, and there was no time to make such an addition. But I'll ask them if an index is possible for any future editions, including the paperback editions.
Skippy Stalin's review:
Reasonable people can reasonably disagree about the Mohammad cartoons. What cannot be debated is that the government has absolutely no place in that debate. Even if you think that the cartoons shouldn't be published, you cannot argue that the state should prohibit their publication or punish it and still consider yourself a supporter of freedom.
...I doubt that my country's liberals would be quite as supportive if the genocidal Islamists that some have taken to their bosoms were targeted, which they have not as yet been. In that, some liberals are supportive of a very unequal justice. Or they think that some people can advocate the destruction of the Jewish people without consequence, but not others. This presumably depends on your skin tone, accent and place of worship.
If the monstrous and wrongheaded Human Rights Commissions are ever reformed or abolished, it will be in large part because of Shakedown and the work that Ezra Levant and others have done. It is a rarity in Canadian publishing, both successful and rewarding to read.
Catherine Ford, the retired editor and columnist at the Calgary Herald, has reviewed Shakedown in that paper. Ford made a career out of zigging where Calgary zagged -- she is a self-described "liberal feminist" in Canada's most conservative city.
Her review is a mix of flattering praise and political criticism. But given how polar opposite we are philosophically, I'm blown away by how positive her review is.
Just for fun, I did a historical search to see what Ford had written over the years about Alberta's human rights commission. She's had mixed things to say about them -- she obviously saw their political champions as her fellow travellers, but she was also aware of their abusive tendencies.
Here's a column she wrote way back in 1992, when the HRC found that a young male driver had the "human right" to pay as little car insurance as a young female driver, actuarial risk statistics be damned. She called the HRC a "horse's ass", which sounds about right.
Here's a more troubling column she wrote in May of 1997, where she approved of using HRCs to rough up people who had an anti-semitic view of history:
Personally, I'm all for harassing the revisionists through whatever tribunals are available, thus exposing them to contempt and showing children that such ignorance is rightfully dealt with through public scorn.
But Ford got that wrong in a big way: it's not the government's job to harass people through abusive legal processes, even if they are ignorant, and that's a terrible lesson in bullying and censorship to teach children. I agree that public scorn is a powerful tool to be used against bigots, but that's the job of private citizens and newspaper pundits, not the state with its prosecutors, fines and gag orders.
I was pleased to see Ford change her tune later that same year, in this column, where she wrote:
...the continuing efforts to censor the tired rantings of Holocaust deniers such as Ernst Zundel [are] so pointless, so wearying, so expensive.
...The proper counterattack is not whining to human rights commissions, but a rigorous program of education for anyone exposed to this garbage, especially children.
That's a pretty big about-face in seven months -- from touting the HRCs' harassment to calling HRCs an improper approach suitable only for whiners. I'm always leery of her solution: political "education" campaigns by the government. That's usually just another word for propaganda, but at least kids can ignore their indoctrinators, and their parents can correct them too. It's far less tyrannical than an abusive HRC with its force of law.
Here's Ford's review of Shakedown. Looking over it again right now, I have to say I'm amazed how flattering she is. If I can't get an arch-lefty like Ford to be truly mad at me, something's out of synch!
Ezra Levant is a smart man. Ezra Levant has good ideas.
Ezra Levant is a lawyer. Why this triad of competence doesn't come together in a pivotal book that could be instrumental in addressing the glaring problems of Canadian human rights commissions and tribunals and in changing them is simple: Ezra Levant is also a polemicist.
To the liberal reader, he's not interested in changing Canada for the better, despite his many convincing arguments, but in expressing his particular skewed version of the country and the institutions charged with hearing the aggrieved.
Levant rants. He doesn't listen. He wants people on his side, not necessarily on the side of what's best for everyone, including those Canadians who aren't big or small-C conservatives.
...Shakedown lays [it] all out -- the outrageous decisions made by human rights commissions across the country, the two-facedness of liberals, feminists, gay rights activists, at which Levant takes many gratuitous swipes. Levant, as all good polemicists do, cherry-picks the facts and couches his arguments in language and imagery designed to enrage social conservatives who see such advances as the rights of women and minorities not to be treated as second-class men as an assault on their rightful position at the top of the food chain. In the doing, he also infuriates liberals. That sort of prunes one's reading audience.
...Shakedown has a solid and compelling foundation--what good is free speech and freedom of the press if any malcontent can cite "hurt feelings" and bring the parties responsible in front of a quasi-judicial, politically appointed panel of amateur judges? Worse, to do so at no cost, not even if the complaint is judged frivolous or without merit? At the very least, anyone wasting taxpayers' time and money on idiotic complaints should be charged with costs, as is usually the case in real court cases. The spectre of having to pay for your own lawyer to deal with your hissy-fit keeps our courts relatively free of nonsense.
Canadians who want their country to be fair and open to all -- liberals to a fault, I guess -- need to read Shakedown. They could have been persuaded to do so if the author had chosen to put less of his own ideology into the mix and more of his considerable talents and experience into a book designed to encourage change.
He ends the book with a look at possible reforms. And had fair-minded Canadians encountered more of that earlier in the book, Levant's cause might be adopted by all of us. He outlines the two schools of thought: the "pruners" and the "weeders," allying himself with the latter.
...The whole point of trying to convince Canadians of all political leanings to read this book is contained in one of the author's final statements: "...Canadians now bend over backward to demonstrate our respect for others--both officially, through affirmative action and multiculturalism policies, and unofficially, in the way thirty-three million of us treat our friends, neighbours and co-workers."
And even a liberal feminist can get onside and applaud that.
Mark Hemingway of the U.S.-based National Review magazine wrote a friendly review of Shakedown. Here are some excerpts:
It’s hard to describe Ezra Levant’s splendid new volume, Shakedown: How Our Government Is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights, as an enjoyable read — because the book is a chronicle of injustice, with outrage on every page.
...As I began to read the facts of Levant’s case, I came to the sad realization that Canada no longer has freedom of speech. The “human rights” commissions (HRCs) all over Canada, staffed by bureaucrats and not following normal legal procedures, had originally been set up to deal with blatant cases of discrimination; they had morphed into star chambers weighing in on what the press could print, what pastors could say from the pulpit, whether certain Bible verses could be displayed publicly, and so on.
...But if my first reaction was horror at what had become of a free Canada, my second was to chuckle softly at what the Canadian government had brought upon itself by putting Steyn and Levant in the dock. Mr. Steyn’s devastating pen straddles continents; whatever punishments the HRCs could heap on him would end up largely irrelevant, given his reach.
Outside of Canada, Levant is less well-known. However, there was little doubt in my mind that he too would prove to be a freedom fighter of the highest order. Some years ago, I attended a three-day academic seminar with Levant. While I’ve had no social contact with him before or since, I can tell you that participating in an academic discussion with Levant is like trying to share a steak with a pit bull. He’s never uncivil or unreasonable — just a lawyer with a killer instinct for finding flaws in arguments. If anyone had asked me if I had any advice for the “human rights” commissioners attempting to prosecute Levant, it would have been, “Duck!”
...the book is much more than simply a recounting of the injustices suffered by Steyn and Levant. The author has a higher purpose — he has written a simple and effectively argued wake-up call for the average Canadian citizen.
...there’s outrage on every page; but Levant’s purpose is to translate outrage into action: His concluding chapter is titled “How Ordinary Canadians Can Fight Back.” I hope the book’s understandable focus on Canada doesn’t discourage Americans from reading it. If you think it can’t happen in America, guess again.
...It would seem that we’re all Canadians now. And if we care about our freedom of expression, we had better start fighting back. Levant’s book should prove to be an invaluable resource for that battle.
It's great to receive that kind of coverage in a major U.S. conservative magazine. When I published the Western Standard, I looked up to NR as a kind of "older brother" to our magazine. When I was in New York, I liked to pop by their headquarters to shoot the breeze with their editorial team and the great Ed Capano, their publisher at the time. I'm delighted that I still keep in touch from time to time with them, and that they care enough about Canada and about freedom to have reviewed my book!
Finally, here is the last video clip of the London town hall event about human rights commissions. I've already posted the speeches; here is the Q&A session, again, courtesy of Josephine:
Human Rights Commissions: Useful or Obsolete? Part 3: Audience Q&A from josephinejosephine on Vimeo.
My friend Mike Brock -- who came to my Indigo book signing on Tuesday! -- invited me on "The Hot Room" talk show tonight at 6:30 MT, 8:30 ET.
You can tune in live, here:Free TV Show from Ustream
I'm still thinking about that amazing 600-person town hall meeting in London, Ontario on Monday night. Thanks again to Jacob, Alan, Mary Lou and the rest of the team. Just incredible.
And thanks to Josephine for posting videos of the speeches!
Here is the introduction to the event, and Kathy Shaidle:
Human Rights Commissions: Useful or Obsolete? Part 1: Intro & Kathy Shaidle from josephinejosephine on Vimeo.
and here is a longer clip -- the first half is Salim Mansur, and the second half is me. What do you think?
Human Rights Commissions: Useful or Obsolete? Part 2: Salim Mansur and Ezra Levant from josephinejosephine on Vimeo.
As usual, I was anxious about the attendance at today's book signing in downtown Toronto -- until it was swamped! The Indigo store in the Royal Bank Plaza down at 200 Bay Street isn't as big as the big-box style Chapters in the burbs. Which meant that it was jam-packed -- the staff had to move the table in ten more feet, so that the crowd didn't spill out the door!
I had a ball talking with everyone -- and meeting commenters from this blog, including "kindle". And the Indigo staff seemed to have fun, too -- when they weren't busy ringing up sales of over 100 copies of Shakedown.
Here are some pictures sent to me by Indigo staffer Jonathan (pictured below), and Indigo customer Veronica. I sure had fun (to be honest, I didn't really notice all the balloons at the time, but I certainly noticed the delicious cookies that the Indigo staff set out. After eating about six of them, I started to wonder if they were in fact just for me or for everybody!) Thanks to everyone who came on down during their lunch break. In a few days I'll publish an updated tour schedule with upcoming public events.
I still can't get over how great the London, Ont., panel discussion was. The substance was there; the audience was informed and engaged; but I still can't believe that 600 people showed up!
Here are some more photos. Some from Nathan Welch:
Eye Weekly is an arts-oriented magazine in Toronto -- very urban and left-of-centre in its political sensibilities. Which makes this positive review of Shakedown by Edward Keenan all the more striking. Here are some excerpts:
It is quickly becoming traditional, when one is about to praise Ezra Levant, to note that he is a self-aggrandizing blowhard. Even the introduction to his book, by fellow traveller Mark Steyn, makes the case. But I’m not inclined today to back into my support for Levant with condemnation.
When Levant was brought before a government bureaucrat to face possible punishment for publishing some cartoons in his magazine, he was asked to explain his motives. Because, you see, for those facing a certain type of justice in Canada these days, thoughts and motivations and associations are of primary importance, more so than any actual harm done. Levant answered, “We published those cartoons for the intention and purpose of exercising our inalienable rights to publish whatever the hell we want, no matter what the hell you think.” Which is good enough for me.
It doesn’t matter if he’s a self-promoter, or a right-wing ideologue or whatever. What matters is that in his book, Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights, which he's in town promoting today, he is raising an issue of grave national importance, and has been nearly alone in doing so. What matters is that he is right.
...One could go on and on about the absurd judgments this system renders, giving tens of thousands of dollars in awards to plaintiffs who are clearly more in need of psychological help than of justice, and in Shakedown, Levant does. He suggests the wholesale dismantling of the Commissions. And I see no reason to disagree with him. There is no right that cannot be adequately guaranteed by our traditional court system. The well-intentioned attempt to create a quick, hassle-free venue for ensuring victims of prohibited discrimination get justice has created a trail of outrageous injustice. And the very persistence of such a system undermines our entire justice system and makes a mockery of the commitment to human rights they claim to defend. We should dismantle the human-rights commission apparatus, as soon as possible.
And then, before we get on with our traditional opposition to Ezra Levant, we should thank him.
When a liberal magazine writes such a review, I am filled with tremendous hope that we can take this campaign for reform all the way to the finish line. Because it supports my thesis that freedom of speech is not a partisan issue, and it's not even "political" -- it's more foundational, more universal than that. It's part of the very fabric of our culture. I believe we now have overwhelming evidence that repeal of the censorship provisions of Canada's HRCs -- and perhaps other, deeper reforms, too -- is a political winner. Every media outlet from the right to the left is united in this matter. In other words, reform isn't just the right thing to do, it's the popular thing to do, too. That's a rare combination in politics, and I think that Prime Minister Stephen Harper should jump on it, and make this issue his own by co-opting Keith Martin's private member's motion about the CHRC.
It feels pretty good to me to receive this praise from a liberal source, praise not for compromising on any value, but rather the opposite: praise for standing firm on principle. The Conservative government could expect the same warm reaction, too.
It's safe to come out for freedom of speech now. Denormalization is more or less achieved. Now's the time for legislative reform. Which politician will be first?
I was nervous when I heard that tonight's panel discussion about Canada's human rights commissions was going to be held in what was once an IMAX theatre in London, Ontario. IMAX theatres are huge -- this one holds 600 people. It's enormously difficult to get 600 people out to a political event, especially when the subject matter is as abstract as freedom of speech, and the dull, continuous threat posed to it by little-known quasi-judicial tribunals. I mean, how many people in London -- population 450,000 -- would spend a weekday evening doing that?
Well, the answer is 600 people, that's who. The room was full. I don't know how to zoom out using my BlackBerry camera, so unless I snapped a series, I couldn't capture the whole room. Here are the two shots I grabbed (as you can see, the room was dark except for the bright lights shining on the stage).
One of the organizers said the head count was 580. Rory Leishman, the London Free Press columnist, said it was the largest political gathering ever held in London outside of an election campaign. (Ironically, no reporter from the LFP deigned to cover the event, even though one of their own columnists, Salim Mansur, was on the panel with Kathy Shaidle and me.)
I won't comment at great length now, because it's late and I've got to get to bed -- I'm off to Toronto first thing in the morning, for a book signing at the Indigo store in the Royal Bank Plaza, at 200 Bay Street. That goes from 12:30 p.m. till 1:30 p.m. -- please stop by if you can.
There were several people videotaping the panel, so I expect the event will be uploaded to YouTube soon -- I'll be sure to post those videos.
Dr. Chris Essex, the famous climate scientist, was the moderator. Kathy Shaidle of Five Feet of Fury went first. I like her blog a lot, but I found her speaking style even more compelling -- a touch more gentle, the humour a touch more subtle, and jam-packed full of facts. I knew she was a good writer, but I didn't know that she was a great speaker. I had high expectations, but they were exceeded. You can read the transcript of her remarks here.
Salim Mansur went next. He's wonderful -- a true classical liberal, and a scholar. And he weaved in personal stories, such as what life was like back in Pakistan and Bangladesh when he was young, and radical Islamists went on a rampage. I was truly touched by his kind words about my fight with the HRCs.
I spoke last, and skipped my standard remarks, since so many of the points were covered by Kathy and Salim, and so many people in the audience seemed to have heard some of my anecdotes before, either on a YouTube of my appearance on the Michael Coren Show or elsewhere. So I riffed on the insanity of thought crimes and "emotion crimes", which is actually what section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is: a law forbidding certain human emotions. No wonder it has a 100% conviction rate.
The Q&A session was strong, and I signed books for about a total of an hour before and after the event.
I'll post the videos when they're on the Internet, but for now let me extend my heartfelt thanks and congratulations to the organizers of this banner event: the Forest City Institute and the Canadian Coalition for Democracies, and Jacob, Alan and Mary Lou. What a great night!
P.S. Thanks to so many friends who drove in from as far away as Michigan, Toronto and Montreal!
P.P.S. I was surprised and delighted, at a reception before the panel, to receive a limited edition print of Kurt Westergaard's cartoon -- the most famous of the 12 original Danish cartoons -- personally autographed by Westergaard himself. It was a gift from Bjorn Larsen of the International Free Press society.
One of the things that is most execrable about Canada's so-called human rights commissions is that they trade on the words "human rights". And, like counterfeit money devaluing real money, their counterfeit human rights, like the "human right" not to be offended, devalue the term that once was reserved for real rights like freedom of religion, the equality of men and women before the law, and the right to be free from violence.
Which is why I'm excited about a new movie by Cyrus Nowrasteh called The Stoning of Soraya M. Unlike most of Hollywood, which is dead silent in the face of human rights violations in the Muslim world (or, in cases like Sean Penn, positively excuse the fascism of foreign dictators), Nowrasteh has created a blistering indictment of the ayatollahs' misogyny and violence. Take a look at this trailer:
That's pretty powerful and it looks beautifully produced. The journalist is played by Jim Caviezel, from The Count of Monte Christo. He also played Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion.
Could The Stoning be another surprise box office hit, like The Passion was? No big studio would touch that -- they either didn't understand Christianity or were hostile to it. Gibson pressed on alone, and created the top-grossing R-rated movie in history -- over $600-million worldwide.
I don't think The Stoning has the kind of near-universal appeal that a story about Jesus does. But based on the trailer, above, I think it will do suprisingly well. Movie-goers have indicated time and again that they're not interested in the anti-war movies that Hollywood has served up for the past five years -- almost all of them have been box office bombs. The closest thing to a pro-war movie in that time was 300, the biggest R-rated movie of 2007. It spoke with moral clarity and confidence about defending western values against illberal hordes from Persia. It was based on history, of course, but its similarities to today's battles were crystal clear to moviegoers.
I think that there is a pent-up demand for movies that explore stories like these -- stories of theocratic brutality that the Sean Penns of the world would surely have produced had the bad guys been, say, priests and popes instead of imams and ayatollahs.
I'm told the movie opens in June. For those who care about true human rights, it looks like a must-see. And as to Canada's embarrassing HRCs? I think it's more likely that they'd charge the movie with "hate speech" against radical Islam than go see it.
On Monday I'm off to London, Ontario, to participate in a panel discussion with Salim Mansur and Kathy Shaidle about human rights commissions. If you're in western Ontario, please come on out and join us at 7 p.m. I'll be signing books afterwards, and I think Kathy will be signing hers, too. Here's the details, in poster form:
Shakedown made the front page of the Ottawa Citizen today. You can see a .pdf the whole front page here. But here's the top right corner of it:
Putting aside how goofy I look in pictures, look at the amazing thing they've done: they've cheered Shakedown, and the cause it represents, on the front page of the newspaper of record in Canada's capital city. They've cheered my fight -- a fight to abolish Canada's corrupt and abusive human rights commissions.
I love the sell line: "He may not be your cup of tea, but he's written a book you should probably read". That's great -- and it's exactly right. The fact that I am sometimes a partisan, and most of the times conservative, has nothing to do with the message of Shakedown: that Canada's HRCs imperil our real civil rights, such as freedom of speech. That's something that should concern liberals as well as conservatives, and the majority of Canadians who don't even think of themselves as political.
It's a point made by Andrew Potter, the journalist who wrote the review. After we spoke in Ottawa last month, he wrote this quick blog item, in which he says my politics aren't his cup of tea, but my advocacy for free speech was downright... liberal. It's true.
His review today is massive; you can read the whole thing here. It's not uniformly positive, but so what -- the book isn't perfect. But it's a story that I felt had to be told -- and that Potter feels has to be read. Some of my favourite excerpts (I added the bold font):
...Ezra Levant is not a Hollywood casting agent's idea of a folk hero. The Calgary-based blogger, journalist, lawyer and political activist has been a prominent figure on the political right in this country for more than a decade, first with the Reform party, then the Canadian Alliance.
...In a show of support for the Danish paper and as an assertion of the right to freedom of expression, Levant reprinted the cartoons in his magazine. And that is where his new book Shakedown begins, with Levant summoned, in early 2008, to what he describes as a "90-minute government interrogation" before the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission.
This meeting marked the nadir of Levant's trip through the looking glass into the world of Canada's human rights commissions, a parallel judicial system where none of the usual rules of procedure, evidence, due process and even rationality necessarily apply. You can take your pick of modifiers -- Orwellian? Kafkaesque? Stalinesque? -- but Levant will take them all. And why not?
Thanks to the complaint that brought him before the AHRCC, he became the only person in the world to face legal sanction for printing the cartoons.
This is something in which Levant obviously takes a great deal of pleasure. Sure, he acts like it has been a terrible ordeal, what with the financial cost (which he puts at $100,000), the threats to his safety, and the toll it has all taken on his personal and professional life. And these costs are real: In his interview with me, Levant mentioned one especially disheartening moment when, with unemployment and a $5,000 legal bill staring him in the face, his heavily pregnant wife turned to him in a cab and asked him where he was going to get the money. "I'll figure something out," he muttered back.
But at the same time, his difficult experiences at the limits of free expression in Canada provided him with the fodder to write Shakedown.
There are three major points on the agenda of this slim volume. The first is a look at the evolution of Canada's human rights commissions (what Levant calls "a beautiful idea -- that failed") from their origins as a tool for fighting racism and discrimination to their subsequent co-optation by the forces of hyper political correctness.
...This is some of the strongest stuff in Shakedown, particularly when Levant exposes what he sees as the dangerous combination of massive self-righteousness and utter cluelessness found in many of the people involved in the human rights industry. These include his interrogator, Shirlene McGovern of the AHRC, Barbara Hall at Ontario's Human Rights Commission, and Richard Warman, a former Canadian Human Rights Commission staffer who now seems to spend most of his time haunting neo-Nazi websites and chatrooms looking for people saying hateful things.
...Ezra Levant is not everyone's cup of tea, and if you really want to see the waters all-aboil, check out his blog (http://ezralevant.com/) where the tone of the writing is considerably less congenial than it is in his book, or even as he is in person.
Yet for all of these caveats and hedgings, you should probably read Shakedown. Because what is really at issue here is not official discrimination, free speech or the growing power of Muslims. It is about something even more fundamental: the right to due process and the dangers of arbitrary government. In the case of Canada's human rights commissions, these two combine in a twisted case of egalitarian do-gooderism gone horribly awry.
...The fact is, Canadians need to have an honest and open discussion about their human rights commissions, and while this book does not end that conversation, it definitely starts it. That is a very good thing, because our human rights commissions have flown under the radar of public attention for too long, ignored by journalists who don't fully understand them, a public that instinctively believes in the ideals that underwrite the term "human rights," and a judiciary that has inexplicably allowed these pseudo-courts to flourish under their very noses.
Which is why, for all of Shakedown's shortcomings, I found myself reading it through in one sitting, leaving off with two simple words running through my head: Go Ezra.
That's a pretty amazing way to end a review. I don't know if it's coincidence, but this afternoon Amazon.ca ran out of copies of the book again. (Don't worry, they're being rushed another shipment and will have it this week.)
The Globe and Mail says I'm holding pretty steady at number 3 on their national bestseller list of Canadian non-fiction hardcover books. Both Chapters and Amazon have it on their bestseller lists, too, That's pretty great, three weeks after the release date -- thank you to everyone who has bought the book. I hope it meets your expectations.
Reviewers have been generous beyond my fondest hopes. Here are a few new ones:
Salim Mansur wrote this amazing review, entitled "Levant defends us all", published across the Sun chain today. Some excerpts:
Ezra Levant's book Shakedown released last month might be the most important publication of the year. It documents the state of free speech in Canada.
...In making his stand for free speech on the basis of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, plus common law, reaching back to the principles set forth in the 800-year-old Magna Carta, Levant entered into the labyrinth of the human rights commissions from where no Canadian sued for "hate speech" has come out free and untarnished.
Levant did win despite such commissions' records of ruling unfailingly in favour of complainants. After more than a year of inquiry into the "Levant affair," the AHRCC dismissed Soharwardy's complaint. Yet the complaint's dismissal was not quite a win as Levant explains in his book.
The basis of the complaint -- the hate speech section of the human rights code -- remains and Canadians without Levant's abilities must speak warily or face likely prosecution knowing free speech is not free in their country.
Canada is one of the oldest democracies, rightfully proud of its traditions among which is the hard won and constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech. But social engineering of the 1960s gave Canadians the human rights commissions, with legislatively provided power to monitor free speech and punish those who run afoul of their codes. This is a stain on Canadian democracy.
...The lamest excuse for constraining free speech is preventing people from being offended.
Imagine if human rights commission-type commissars had prevailed at the beginning of the Renaissance and Reformation. The modern world would have been aborted at its conception.
In Shakedown Levant has compellingly demonstrated why it is not "normal" for a mature democracy to place any constraint -- apart from the criminal code provisions -- on free speech.
Levant deserves to be read widely and Canadians should be asking, in increasing numbers, why politicians are not moving fast enough to remove this stain from their democracy.
That's pretty amazing.
The Post had an official book review today, written by Patrick Keeney. Here's the link, and here are some excerpts:
...In Canada, we don’t burn heretics. We simply subject them to the ravages of one of our 14 Human Rights Commissions (HRCs), arguably a crueller fate. In Shakedown, Ezra Levant has summoned his considerable polemical energy to expose the farcical and parlous state of our HRCs.
Levant reveals one embarrassingly awful case after another. Juvenal wrote that, “In times like these, it is difficult not to write satire” and one is left to wonder, “Could this really be happening here?” For example, Levant cites the case of a man who became a woman, and who then wanted to work as a counsellor at a Vancouver rape-relief centre. Those responsible for hiring thought this a bad idea. The complainant insisted that this line of work was her “right,” used the British Columbia HRC to sue, and won. The net result is that the centre, which should have used its limited resources to help women, had to pay off a complainant. Sadly, common sense is often the first casualty in the promotion of human rights.
...some of the more high-profile advocates for HRCs would curtail all speech they feel is “discriminatory.” Heaven knows what this means, but presumably we should all now tiptoe around those whose delicate sensibilities are easily offended. Furthermore, unpleasant truths should either be ignored or denied, lest they encourage a volatile reaction in our fellow citizens. These retrograde notions are anathema to freedom and suitable only for totalitarian states and closed societies.
...This public outing of the hitherto closeted star chambers of HRCs altered the nature of the fight. What was once done in secret now became public knowledge and, thanks to the Internet, a worldwide cause célèbre. The mainstream media, which until this point had been silent, began to echo the outrage of the bloggers. The B.C. HRC’s proceedings against Mark Steyn and Maclean’s attracted media from around the world. PEN Canada opined on the need for freedom of expression. Finally, the politicians began to take note.
The Toronto Star once referred to HRCs as “whacky.” After reading Shakedown, this epithet seems tame. If you want a reasonably accurate snapshot of how Canada’s HRCs operate, you need first to imagine an all-powerful government agency, inspired, say, by the fantasies of Philip K. Dick. Now imagine this agency has an investigative arm headed by Inspector Clouseau, who testifies in a court presided over by the Red Queen, who runs the proceedings according to the Lewis Carroll School of Jurisprudence.
Ezra Levant has done his fellow citizens an enormous service in exposing this folly.
I love how HRCs are described as part sci-fi, part comedy, part Alice in Wonderland. I think that's spot-on.
And here's George Jonas, who has been fighting against HRCs long before they became a full-blown menace:
The publisher can't keep up with demand for Ezra Levant's book Shakedown, which appeared last week with a foreword by Mark Steyn. The slim volume is like an open whaling boat in which Levant sets out to harpoon Canada's Leviathan of a "human rights" industry.
Among the things to note about the scourge of our human-rights commissions (HRCs), one is that Levant isn't actually against them. This may be news to the beleaguered commissars who reel under the relentless blows of the plucky pamphleteer's crusading journalism, but it seems to be the case.
Paradoxically, Levant's book is all the more convincing and effective because he isn't basically opposed to the institutions whose demise -- if it happens -- he will have contributed to so much. He's against the commissions' excesses, their extra-legal methods, thuggish associates, bureaucratic arrogance, cloak-and-dagger gambits and their encroachments into areas that he feels were never meant to be any of their business. He would certainly reform the "rights" commissars, make them obey the law and bar them from the nation's newsrooms. Levant might even say that the HRCs have outlived their usefulness and should now be retired. But -- and it's a big but -- he seems to have no philosophical dispute with the impulses that gave birth to the "human rights" industry in the first place.
...A person whose dispute with HRCs is more fundamental than Levant's might say that these institutions didn't go wrong but were wrong from the word go. Far from making Canadians tolerant, they got away with fostering discord only because Canadians were basically tolerant to begin with. As instruments of government coercion, HRCs had to evolve into Orwellian "Ministries of Love" from the pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four because they weren't set up to promote human rights any more than Big Brother's infamous ministry was set up to promote love. On the contrary, HRCs were established to promote human ambitions at the expense of human rights.
...Discriminating -- that is, choosing -- is the most fundamental human right. On whatever grounds, including ugly, stupid, prejudicial grounds, the human right is to choose. To be chosen is only a human ambition. Often a fine ambition, to be sure; an ambition to endorse and cherish, but an ambition nevertheless. When we institutionalize human ambitions of which we approve to trump human rights, of which we do not, we create conditions that inevitably result in all the things we are now astonished to read about in Shakedown.
Will the harpoon claim the Leviathan? It certainly seems to have found its mark.
Jonas raises an interesting point, one noted today by Mark Steyn. In my book, my main arguments against HRCs are practical: in a word, they're nuts. I describe the nuttiness in their substance (e.g. the human right not to have to wash your hands when you work in a restaurant) and the nuttiness in their procedures (no neutral judges; no rules of court; no legal aid, etc.) And I give the benefit of the doubt to the founders of HRCs -- men like Alan Borovoy who, like Dr. Frankenstein, have come to repent the foul deeds that their creations have wrought. I even called HRCs a beautiful idea that failed.
But I think that Jonas extrapolates too much from those two points. I'm not against HRCs merely because they are kangaroo courts in their operations. I wouldn't want counterfeit rights -- like the made-up right not to have to wash your hands, or the made-up right not to be offended -- to be adjudicated by a real court, with a real judge and real rules of court. As I told my interrogator last January, this is junk law, for which HRCs have become a dump:
And where I describe HRCs as a beautiful idea gone awry, I was referring to the noble dream of the Borovoys of this world for a way for races and religions to live together harmoniously. In addition to Borovoy's public renunciation of today's HRCs, I have heard from several provincial human rights commissioners from a generation ago who swear to me that what HRCs have become is not at all what they were meant to become. I think I have to take them at their word about their intentions. As I note in the book, Jonas and Borovoy have had great debates on this subject, with Jonas pointing out that he knew immediately that the HRCs were a flawed project, whereas Borovoy said he didn't realize that until decades later. Jonas was merely more prescient -- perhaps the result of his own escape from a totalitarian regime.
I know that the above sounds defensive; but it's simply because I actually do share Jonas's view that human desires (he calls them ambitions) are not human rights. I think it's that Jonas thinks the HRCs' founders were at best wilfully blind to the perils they were launching. When I meet HRC founders, I sense a feeling of betrayal that feels genuine. Perhaps that's me going soft -- a mere look at HRC legislation shows how they were destined to become tools of tyranny.
In any event, Jonas thinks my wishy-washiness adds to my book's persuasiveness, as it makes me seem moderate. I'll accept that as a compliment, as an author whose goal was to write an advocacy book calling for the weeding-out of these commissions. But perhaps Jonas is in fact accurate: perhaps my views are mainstream and moderate -- the uniformly positive reviews I've received seem to support that -- and one has to have an extra helping of skepticism and radicalism, like Jonas has, to be anywhere close to "right wing" on the issue of HRCs in 2009!
In any event, Jonas is a great friend of liberty and a first-rate thinker, and wherever he and I disagree, it would be safe to assume that he's right and I'm wrong, and I just need to think about things a little longer! I'd love reader comments on this subject.
My book tour took me to Vancouver the other day, where one of my events was at a Fraser Institute reception and dinner. I spoke for about half an hour, answered questions for another half hour, and then had dinner with a smaller group. I was pretty relaxed and so was the crowd -- it was in a bar, after all!
Here are some video clips from that speech, courtesy of the Fraser Institute.
P.S. I note that the event was sponsored in part by something called Infamous magazine. That says it all!
P.P.S. I know, I need a haircut.
On a totally different topic, the Fraser Institute put out this short video about global warming -- I thought it was well done:
Monte Solberg was a great MP. He was one of the original wave of Reformers who won in the 1993 election, and he went on to become a successful minister in Stephen Harper's first term government. Last fall he left Parliament after 15 years, but hasn't left public life -- he writes for the Sun chain of newspapers now. I'm so glad, because the only downside of him becoming a cabinet minister was that he had to stop writing his blog. I'm not just saying that as a partisan and as a friend; I think his lively commentary was regarded by Liberals and Conservatives alike as a hilariously honest criticism of politics in Canada.
Well, today Monte weighs in with a review of Shakedown in the Edmonton, Ottawa and Calgary Sun newspapers. It's a very generous review of the book, but it also contains a surprising and touching statement from Monte, speaking not as a columnist but as an ex-politician himself:
After reading Shakedown I am embarrassed for not doing nearly enough to take up this cause when I was in government.
Secondly, I'm angry. Now that all has been laid bare I hope current federal and provincial cabinet ministers are also embarrassed at this outrage, embarrassed enough to rein in human rights commissions who long ago quit caring about real human rights.
That's an incredible statement. I'm grateful for it, but perhaps Monte is being too tough on himself -- the Canadian Human Rights Commission wasn't his portfolio, it is that of the Justice Minister. And much of the corruption and abuse commited by the CHRC had not been widely aired until the last year. But I'm grateful for his statement, and for his exhortation to his former colleagues to take up the cause. Here are some other excerpts from the amazing review. I've bolded one particular sentence:
...there are some stories that shouldn't be forgotten after a week. As satisfying as it is to complain, sometimes the situation is serious enough that actual action is required. This is one of those situations.
Six months ago I left my 15-year career as a member of Parliament, including close to three years as a cabinet minister in the Conservative government. During that time I followed the story of my friend Ezra Levant as he battled the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission over his right to publish the controversial Danish cartoons that depicted Muhammad as a terrorist.
At the time I was proud of Levant for not backing down, but mostly I was too busy as a minister to pay attention to the bizarre antics of the commission.
Nor, did I understand the degree to which the same and worse abuses were taking place at the Canadian Human Rights Commission, pretty much right under the noses of me and my colleagues in the federal cabinet.
Thanks to Levant's terrific new book, Shakedown, at least now I have a full understanding of how bad things really were, and I suspect still are.
It's true. Cabinet ministers are exceedingly busy, and have little time for elective reading outside of their areas of responsibility. And even a Justice Minister has so many blinking lights on his radar screen, a relatively minor agency, such as the CHRC, would normally not come to his attention.
I myself didn't know 10% of what I now know about HRCs until I myself was ensnared by one.
But over the past year, a tremendous amount of scrutiny has come to bear on Canada's HRCs, especially the abominable conduct of the CHRC. First it was bloggers and talk radio hosts doing the heavy lifting, but soon reporters and columnists in the mainstream print media joined in, too. The HRCs have been largely denormalized. Their greatest defence -- keeping a low profile, and hiding behind their Orwellian name -- has been breached.
We know for a fact that the Justice Minister is now well briefed on the CHRC's corruption. He himself voted to repeal their odious censorship provision, at a party policy convention last November. So ignorance is no longer an excuse. Now it's just a matter of political will.
Monte's call to action is well timed. I hope it's heeded by his former colleagues.
Milt Rosenberg hosts Chicago's top-rated radio talk show, called Extension 720, on WGN Radio. Tomorrow night (Friday) I'm going to be on Milt's show for two full hours with Mark Steyn, talking about freedom of speech, Canada's abusive and corrupt human rights commissions, and why Americans should care.
The show starts at 9 p.m. Central Time (which is 10 p.m. ET and 8 p.m. MT). If you're in Chicago, tune into your radio, and if you're anywhere else in the world, listen online here.
I know you won't believe it, coming from a chatterbox like me, but I'm going to be tempted to just yield all of my time to Mark Steyn to hear his answers to any questions, rather than my own!
A reader sent me this letter to the editor that appeared in the Southern Utah University newspaper. Here's the link; allow me to reprint it in its entirety:
In light of SUU officials plan to designate "Free Speech Zones" on campus, I thought I'd offer my assistance. Grab a map. OK, ready?
All right, you see that big area between Canada and Mexico, surrounded by lots of blue ink on the East and West? You see it?
There's your bloody Free Speech Zone.
Senior communication major from Bountiful
Something tells me that Young Jeffrey is the type of guy who, if he were a Canadian, would attract human rights commission busybodies like flies. And he wouldn't bow down to them for a minute, either.
I look forward to the day -- not long from now, I hope -- when such a clarion call would resonate in Canada in the same way. It ought to -- free speech is as much our legacy as it is America's. We just need to remind ourselves that, despite thirty years of being told we're actually a censored people, we remain a free people.
I'm a week late in mentioning it, but I'm delighted to see that Randy Hillier, a candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, has made the abolition of Ontario's human rights commission part of his campaign platform. Here's his statement on the subject -- I love his tagline: real justice, real judges. That gets to the heart of it pretty well. Ontario's HRC is run by a failed Toronto mayor, a Marxist crusader named Barbara Hall. She's no judge, and what she's meting out is not justice.
Hillier, along with fellow PC MPP Lisa Macleod, have been leading the charge to reform Ontario's HRCs. They were the ones who pressed for public hearings at which Tribunal appointees would be grilled -- which led to some scary revelations about the censorious instincts of that panel. And he also was part of the team (led by Macleod) who brought Mark Steyn to Queen's Park to testify about the kangaroo court nature of the OHRC.
I'm glad Hillier is making this issue part of his campaign. Frankly, I hope the other candidates "me too" him on this, and make it unanimous!
The Fraser Institute luncheon at Calgary's Chamber of Commerce was sold out today -- it was literally cheek by jowl in there! I even saw someone who had come to my book-signing at Chapters last Friday, too -- that was pretty neat to see someone at two events.
I told the audience how critical my Internet supporters have been to my battle -- and how, without the technologies of YouTube, blogging and PayPal, it would have been impossible to denormalize the human rights commissions and to pay for all the nuisance suits they've filed against me. The Internet has democratized the world, and has made asymmetrical political warfare possible -- in my case, one private person taking on a multi-million dollar industry.
In keeping with the Internet theme, I snapped a quick picture of the crowd, and told them I was going to put it on my blog for those who couldn't attend in person. Here's that shot:
From New York City to Nanaimo, we're adding more visits on the Shakedown book tour.
I'll have more precise details about both events later this week, including how to sign up, but the dates are firm. Stand by for Montreal details, too, and more to come.
May 19, New York City
Evening book reception
May 22, Nanaimo
Mid-day book signing event
For the full itinerary, see here.
When I was out in Vancouver last week, I stopped by the Fraser Institute HQ and taped a quick Q&A with them about Shakedown. Here's that short clip:
That's a quick and fun intro to the book. They also taped my hour-long presentation to their "Behind the Spin" reception at the Metro bar in Vancouver. It was a rambunctious affair -- aided by the fact that, well, it was in a bar. I hope the jokes go over as well on tape as they did that night! I'll post those videos as soon as they're YouTubed.
My next public book event is this Tuesday, at a Fraser Institute event held at Calgary's Chamber of Commerce. When I checked last week, they only had 15 seats left. Today's big Calgary Herald piece on the book mentioned the event, so if you're interested, better call the Fraser Institute on Monday morning.
I'm adding an additional Saskatoon event in late April, as well as a Montreal event. I'll have details on those and my New York City event later this week. Finally, I will actually be participating in two different events at the Ottawa writers festival, so that's updated, too.
So here's the confirmed dates as things stand now:
April 7, Calgary
Lunch speech, co-sponsored by the Fraser Institute and Chamber of Commerce, 11:45 a.m. Details here.
April 13, London, Ont.
Panel discussion with Salim Mansur and Kathy Shaidle, co-hosted by Forest City Institute and Canadian Coalition for Democracies, 7 p.m.. Details here.
April 14, Toronto
Book-signing at IndigoSpirit bookstore in Royal Bank Plaza, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Store location map here.
April 23, Saskatoon
Book signing details to come.
April 25, Ottawa
Ottawa International Writers Festival, Byward Market. Moderated discussion at noon, and then presentation and Q&A again at 4 p.m. Event details here.
April 30, Calgary
Fundraising dinner for Rev. Stephen Boissoin's legal defence, 6 p.m. Details here.
May 1, Red Deer
Fundraising dinner for Rev. Stephen Boissoin's legal defence, 6 p.m. Details here.
May 2, Calgary
Daytime event -- details to come.
May 2, Edmonton
Fundraising dinner for Rev. Stephen Boissoin's legal defence, 6 p.m. Details here.
May 7, Winnipeg
Winnipeg South Conservative Association, Caboto Centre, 6 p.m. Details here.
May 22, Victoria
Victoria Conservative breakfast, 7 a.m. Details here.
October 30, Saskatoon
Evening event -- details to come.
I've been busy on the book tour -- or recovering from the book tour! -- so I haven't had a chance to bring to your attention all of the exciting mentions Shakedown has received in the press lately. Here are some from the past few days:
The great Andrew Coyne reviewed the book for Maclean's, Canada's largest news magazine, which also excerpted the case in the book about Beena Datt, the woman who won the "human right" not to have to wash her hands while working in a restaurant kitchen. Here are some of Andrew's comments:
...from the revelations of procedural abuses by investigators at the Canadian Human Rights Commission, to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission’s investigation of a cartoonist at the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, to the celebrated “trial” of Maclean’s before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, the problem is pervasive, indeed integral. Flattening important civil liberties is not an accidental byproduct of the commissions’ work. It is their work.
...[Shakedown] makes a persuasive argument to this effect...
And that’s the issue. Human rights commissions have been set up as a kind of parallel police and legal system, yet without any of the procedural safeguards, rules of evidence, or simple professional expertise of the real thing. Human rights investigators can search homes and offices without warrants. Tribunals can accept hearsay evidence, or ignore disclosure requirements, at will. Common law defences such as fair comment do not apply. Complainants have their costs paid for, even if they lose, while their targets must fend for themselves. None of this is accidental. It’s deliberate—protecting “human rights” was considered too urgent a matter to be constrained by old-fashioned notions of due process.
...By the end of Levant’s book, readers will be left wondering whether it is enough to prune back the commissions, or, as he prefers, to weed them out altogether.
George Jonas lists Shakedown as one of the seven books he thinks everyone should read twice! The relevant excerpt:
Ezra Levant is the epitome of the crusading journalist — fearless, persistent, inventive, brimming with energy. He also happens to be right as far as I’m concerned. His new book Shakedown: How Our Government Is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights, with a foreword by Mark Steyn, pulverizes the leading institution of budding Big Brotherism in Canada.
Levant wrote in a recent blog that I “was on to the fraud of Canada’s ‘human rights commissions’ ” before he was born. Yes, but once he jumped that hurdle, he wasted no time catching up.
Overelawyered.com is a great U.S. website about the American affliction of too many lawsuits. Canada has a simple rule that America lacks, that has made us far less litigious: in Canadian civil courts, the loser has to pay a portion of the winner's legal fees. That means nuisance suits are far less common.
Which is why human rights commissions are so bad -- they remove that damper on frivolous suits, inviting the worst bullies and harassers to abuse the system. Here's Overlawyered.com's quick item.
University of Calgary's Gauntlet
Like most university newspapers, the Gauntlet tilts to the left. Which makes it all the more noticeable when they come out against the abuses of human rights commissions. Here is that paper's discussion of Alberta's HRC, and the prospects for reform. Excerpts:
Human rights law in Alberta may be getting a much-needed revision in the near future...
Blackett has also called for the reform of the Alberta Human Rights Commission. If this law is passed, the HRC will no longer have the power to adjudicate cases of free speech and will instead be downgraded to deal with small-scale rights infringements, like citizens being denied rent or being fired for discriminatory reasons.
The Alberta Human Rights Commission is the most embarrassing social service in the province and Blackett is doing every citizen a tremendous favour by demanding legal violations be dealt with in a real court. The present system has people with no legal training trying individuals who have broken no laws-- if they had, they would be in a proper court. The charges amount to hurt feelings and seek to limit free speech in an undemocratic way. As the case of Ezra Levant has shown, the cost of defending oneself can be very high and the opposition's fees are paid with tax money. Of course, discrimination is a problem in Alberta and there has to be measures to ensure rights are met, but the HRC is currently not it.
I have to tell you, as an alumnus of U of C -- and of the Gauntlet -- I never thought I'd see the day such words were written in that paper!
London Free Press
Rory Leishman has been a strong critic of the abuses of human rights commissions for years. His review is very generous. Some excerpts:
Ezra Levant, popularly known in some quarters as Ezra the Rant, has written an eloquent and powerful polemic Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights. The target of his righteous wrath is Canada's so-called human rights commissions.
The very name of these commissions is misleading. They serve mainly to suppress and subvert the fundamental rights and freedoms they are supposed to safeguard and enhance.
...At issue was Levant's decision as publisher of the Western Standard to republish a controversial set of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad. In the letter of complaint to the commission, Sohwardwari stated, "I am quite disturbed and mentally tortured by the cartoons." He also accused Levant of inciting "violence, hate and discrimination against me and my family."
...Levant notes he is "the first journalist in the free world to be grilled by a government inquisitor about the cartoons. Not even the Danish cartoonists were called in to answer for what they'd done. Nor had any of the newspapers in Europe that republished the cartoons.
...Early in the cartoons affair, the Alberta commission tried to shake him down, by offering to drop the case if he agreed to publish an apology in his magazine and pay several thousands dollars to Soharwardi.
Levant summarily refused. He relates, "I replied that I would fight the AHRCC and their hijackers all the way to the Supreme Court before I did that -- and even if I lost there, I'd contemplate doing jail time for contempt of court before apologizing."
Levant is a hero. All Canadians should honour him for defending their rights, and support the growing national movement that he and Steyn have ignited to persuade our federal and provincial legislators to curb, if not altogether abolish, Canada's rights-destroying HRCs.
By the way, I'll be speaking in London, Ont., along with Salim Mansur and Kathy Shaidle, on April 13th. You can see all the details here.
Stabroek News, Guyana
My book was mentioned in the Stabroek News in Guyana, a small city in a small country on the northern coast of South America. Guyana has had its own experience with nutbars from human rights commissions -- one of the many bizarre things about Jim Jones, who led his cult to mass suicide in Guyana, was once the director of San Francisco's human rights commission.
Here's the Stabroek News mention of Shakedown; here are some excerpts:
...As editor of the Western Standard, Levant published the controversial Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed. When a single complaint led to his summons by the Alberta Human Rights Commission in January 2008, Levant decided not to bargain his way out of trouble, as most sensible people would have done. He pushed back aggressively against his interrogator at the commission, videotaped the encounter and posted the footage to YouTube. A few days later his clips had been seen more than 400,000 times and his cause was taken up by bloggers all over the world. They not only helped him to research and publicise his case − for free − they even donated large sums of money to help him pay the substantial legal costs associated with his heroic defence of free speech. Levant finally triumphed over the bureaucrats who intended to charge him with the rather Orwellian sounding offence of “hate speech” but he readily concedes that his victory could not have happened before the social networks often referred to as ‘Web 2.0’ had become commonplace.
Vancouver Sun and Victoria Times-Colonist
Those two west-coast papers ran the same review by Sreerekha Verma, which you can see here and here. I'm glad the book is getting coverage in B.C. -- home of Canada's nuttiest human rights commission. Some excerpts:
...In Shakedown, Levant is caustic about his views of the CHRC, but successful in weaving a beautiful web against them.
He says human rights commissions "were a beautiful idea -- that failed . . . and is the biggest threat to our liberties -- freedom of speech."
This is the gist of the book and Levant does an admirable job in proving his point with detailed case studies and examples of how human rights commissions have taken on cases, which were not violations of human rights, at all.
...Shakedown is his argument, or rather his closing argument, before the jury of Canadians. He makes a passionate appeal to Canadians to stand up for their basic rights, freedom of speech, which according to him, is being threatened by the CHRC.
The foreword by Mark Steyn sets the tone perfectly for Levant's arguments...
Levant has researched a huge number of human rights cases in Canada and has stumbled upon numerous bizarre cases...
These are cases, Levant says, which might have not been heard by the Canadian legal system, so the CHRC takes them up, treating many grievances as human rights violations...
Shakedown raises some relevant questions and Levant tries to answer some, while others are left for Canadians to take action.
This massive story in my hometown paper -- replete with terrifying half-page photo -- was more of a review of me than a review of the book. It noted that I was a political trouble-maker even back in high school (I don't deny it).
The reviewer suggests I'm a bit much. But that's the whole point: anyone who isn't pushy, noisy, stubborn, confident and combative is doomed to be squashed by a human rights commission. Actually, let me adjust that: even pushy, noisy, stubborn confident and combative people wouldn't fight an HRC, because it simply makes no sense to do so: if you're going to lose anyways, why waste time and money fighting a hopeless fight? As I've proved, even being acquitted isn't much of a "win" if you've wasted a thousand hours and $100,000 that you'll never get back. As I said to The Tyee in my interview with them last week, in words that I shall surely regret for years, you need to draw on your "inner asshole" to fight back against such a Kafkaesque system, knowing the other side has all the money and time in the world.
Some excerpts from the Herald:
Levant's story makes up only a portion of the book, with the majority of it dedicated to outlining strange-but-true rulings that have been made through human rights commissions throughout the country. Within days of its release, McClelland&Stewart ordered a second printing of Shakedown.
...more telling has been the support Levant's case has received from politically progressive sources: The Toronto Star's editorial board, Toronto's alternative Eye Weekly, the gay advocacy group Egale Canada and even Canadian Civil Liberties Association founder Alan Borovoy.
..."It means more for a liberal to stand up for my rights that for a conservative to stand up for my rights," says Levant. "It's easy for a conservative to stand up for me. . . . Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the support of conservatives. But for the Toronto Star and Eye Weekly, what they are demonstrating is that they are putting their belief in free speech above whatever particular sub-stance we are talking about. And that's the essence of free speech. It only really counts if you're for it for people you disagree with."
As political comedian Rick Mercer says about Levant in his succinct blurb on the back cover of Shakedown: "thanks to the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal, God forbid, he's a freedom fighter."
And Levant has certainly taken to the role. Levant --who gained early notoriety protesting affirmative action policies as a student at the University of Alberta -- drops references to Martin Luther King and Gandhi into the conversation. He talks about the Suffragettes and gay rights movements. Earlier this year, he was even hobnobbing with the Toronto literati at the annual general meeting of PEN Canada, a non-profit organization that helps writers persecuted for voicing their opinions.
"That was an unusual place for me to be, it felt great," he said. "John Ralston Saul was there and that's usually not my crowd. But on this issue, it really was my crowd."
But regardless of your political views, the questions Levant asks about human rights commissions are sound. How can we justify Canadians being brought before proceedings that operate beyond the rules of civil and criminal courts? Why is someone who is cleared of any wrongdoing still responsible for paying his or her own legal costs --in Levant's case, more than $100,000--when the complainant doesn't have to play a dime?
Most importantly, how exactly do bureaucrats determine whether someone's words, writings or views are "likely to expose a person to hatred or contempt?"
"It's such a vague law, it practically begs for political abuse," says Levant. "That can be used against almost anyone, so it comes down to the political tastes of the censor."
..."There were points in time when I was very stressed about the legal fees, I didn't know if I could get help to cover them," he says. "But thank God I was able to cover those bills through donations on the Internet. So that took away all my stress. And then I could fight this as a political fight, which I actually do like. And I am a very stubborn person by nature."
McClelland & Stewart
That same Herald story had some great quotes from my publisher, McClelland & Stewart, better known for publishing Canadian left-wingers like Margaret Atwood and Mel Hurtig:
Doug Pepper, president and publisher of McClelland& Stewart, admits you'd have to be "deaf, dumb and blind not to know what Ezra's politics are," but says he thinks the subject matter and Levant's approach to it has been "politically blind."
"We had people outside of the office who said, 'You're publishing Ezra Levant? What kind of press are you?' " says Pepper. "And I said, 'That's thoroughly un-Canadian and undemocratic to say. Read the book and then make your judgment.' "
And so far, Pepper believes Levant has received a fair shake from both the left and right on this issue.
Of course, I'm pleased with Shakedown's success for my own reasons. But I'm glad that the good folks at M&S, who took a risk on this project, have a best-seller on their hands for their pains.
Last but not least, David Warren mentions Mark Steyn and me in the Ottawa Citizen today:
One is reminded of [the late journalist Brian Hutchison], today, by Canadian journalists such as Ezra Levant, or Mark Steyn, who, though their personalities may vary, nevertheless share that stiff-necked quality. Levant's new book -- Shakedown: How Our Government Is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights -- puts everything on the line in the way the best Canadian journalists always did. (I recommend that book without reservation: it delivers exactly what it promises, and every voter needs to know.)
So, in that sense nothing has changed. The nobility, or rather potential nobility, of the journalistic vocation remains.
That's very kind, coming from David, whose own miraculous presence in a newspaper of record is cause for hope.
The national sales numbers are in, and according to the Globe and Mail, Shakedown was the second-most popular Canadian hard-cover book last week!
I'm thrilled -- and grateful to you, my loyal readers and supporters.
Making the best-seller list is the beginning of a positive feedback loop -- it brings the book to the attention of even more buyers (and lets book sellers know that it pays to unpack and display the book, and keep shelves stocked!).
For the past fifteen months, this blog (and many others) has brought the facts about Canada's corrupt and abusive human rights commissions to the attention of thousands of people -- but they (i.e. you) are, in the main, politically tuned-in readers. Being on a best-seller list means the book is getting into the hands of "severely normal" Canadians, most of whom don't consider themselves partisan or even political. If they get revved up about Canada's HRCs, reform is a certainty.
I confess that I was worried about tonight's book-signing at the Chapters store on Macleod Trail south in Calgary. I don't think it was advertised except with some in-store signage and on my blog. The Chapters event in Ottawa on Rideau Street had the most powerful advertising imaginable: CFRA radio plugged it twice that same morning, so books flew off the shelves, and the store ran out.
I was greatly relieved when I showed up twenty minutes early to find a dozen people already there -- and a gorgeous stage and sound system in place. I snapped this photo on my BlackBerry:
There were probably 250 copies of the book throughout the store, prominently displayed. And there was some serious staff there too: in addition to the store manager, there were two sound technicians and even a couple of security guards. I'm not sure if they were meant to protect me from the crowd, the crowd from me, or a combination, but it felt pretty great to have such a big team there.
I went to a back room and signed a stack of books that some customers who couldn't attend in person had left for me.
Then I came out and gave a talk for 20 minutes, and everyone in the whole store gathered, standing room only all the way to the front of the store. I took questions for about ten minutes, and then signed books. Half way through the book-signing I just stood up and snapped this picture of the line:
Needless to say, I was thrilled. The store did a brisk business, and we didn't have the Ottawa problem of running out of books.
I felt like the store really went the extra mile -- they really put a lot of effort into making it a wonderful event, and they clearly spent some money on sound and security. It was wonderful hospitality, and it's officially my favourite Chapters store in the country. They made me feel so welcome.
If you're in the Calgary area and want to be sure to get a copy, stop by the Chapters on Macleod Trail and 96th Avenue South -- it's in the Brick Plaza. Not only do they have a good amount of stock, but it's well-displayed, too. Consider me a fan!
I had a blast at my last book signing, at the Chapters on Rideau Street in Ottawa. They were sold out in less than an hour, and had to drain neighbouring book stores to stock up!
I can hardly wait until my next book signing, tomorrow evening (Friday), at 7 p.m. at the Chapters store on MacLeod Trail and 96th Avenue in Calgary. Here's a map.
I'm told that Chapters has ensured that they have plenty of copies on hand, so we won't run out even if hundreds of folks show up. So please do show up -- say hello, we'll chat for a bit, and I'll personalize your copy. See you tomorrow at 7!
P.S. Reader Gordon was at the book signing in Ottawa when they stocked out. He returned to the store this week, and snapped the following picture on his cell phone (which he helpfully diagrams!) It looks like Chapters Rideau won't be out of stock anytime soon!