Editor’s note: In 2006, the now-defunct Western Standard magazine published the so-called “Danish cartoons” of the Muslim prophet Mohammed in a news story covering the international backlash against the publication of the editorial cartoons in a Danish newspaper. In response, [NAME] filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. On Jan. 11, 2008, the Standard’s erstwhile publisher, Ezra Levant, appeared in Calgary before the commission. His opening remarks are reprinted here with permission. Videos of the proceedings can be viewed at his website, www.ezralevant.com.
My name is Ezra Levant. Before this government interrogation begins, I will make a statement.
When the Western Standard magazine printed the Danish cartoons of Mohammed two years ago, I was the publisher. It was the proudest moment of my public life. I would do it again today. In fact, I did do it again today. Though the Western Standard, sadly, no longer publishes a print edition, I posted the cartoons this morning on my website, ezralevant.com.
I am here at this government interrogation under protest. It is my position that the government has no legal or moral authority to interrogate me or anyone else for publishing these words and pictures. That is a violation of my ancient and inalienable freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of the press and, in this case, religious freedom and the separation of mosque and state. It is especially perverted that a bureaucracy calling itself the Alberta human rights commission would be the government agency violating my human rights. So I will now call those bureaucrats “the commission” or “the HRC,” since to call the commission a “human rights commission” is to destroy the meaning of those words.
I believe that this commission has no proper authority over me. The commission was meant as a low-level, quasi-judicial body to arbitrate squabbles about housing, employment and other matters, where a complainant felt that their race or sex was the reason they were discriminated against. The commission was meant to deal with deeds, not words or ideas. Now the commission, which is funded by a secular government, from the pockets of taxpayers of all backgrounds, is taking it upon itself to be an enforcer of the views of radical Islam. So much for the separation of mosque and state.
I have read the past few years’ worth of decisions from this commission, and it is clear that it has become a dump for the junk that gets rejected from the real legal system. I read one case where a male hair salon student complained that he was called a “loser” by the girls in the class. The commission actually had a hearing about this.
Another case was a kitchen manager with hepatitis C, who complained that it was against her rights to be fired. The commission actually agreed with her and forced the restaurant to pay her $4,900. In other words, the commission is a joke – it’s the Alberta equivalent of a U.S. television pseudo-court like Judge Judy – except that Judge Judy actually was a judge, whereas none of the commission’s panelists are judges and some aren’t even lawyers. And, unlike the commission, Judge Judy believes in freedom of speech.
It’s bad enough that this sick joke is being wreaked on hair salons and restaurants. But it’s even worse now that the commissions are attacking free speech. That’s my first point: the commissions have leapt out of the small cage they were confined to and are now attacking our fundamental freedoms. As Alan Borovoy, Canada’s leading civil libertarian, a man who helped form these commissions in the 60s and 70s, wrote, in specific reference to our magazine, being a censor is “hardly the role we had envisioned for human rights commissions. There should be no question of the right to publish the impugned cartoons.” Since the commission is so obviously out of control, he said, “It would be best, therefore, to change the provisions of the Human Rights Act to remove any such ambiguities of interpretation.”
The commission has no legal authority to act as censor. It is not in their statutory authority. They’re just making it up – even Alan Borovoy says so.
But even if the commissions had some statutory fig leaf for their attempts at political and religious censorship, it would still be unlawful and unconstitutional.
We have a heritage of free speech that we inherited from Great Britain that goes back to the year 1215 and the Magna Carta. We have a heritage of 800 years of British common law protection for speech, augmented by 250 years of common law in Canada.
That common law has been restated in various fundamental documents, especially since the Second World War.
In 1948, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Canada is a party, declared that:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
The 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights guaranteed:
1. “ human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely, (c) freedom of religion; (d) freedom of speech; (e) freedom of assembly and association; and (f) freedom of the press.
In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteed:
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
a) freedom of conscience and religion;
b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
Those were even called “fundamental freedoms” – to give them extra importance.
For a government bureaucrat to call any publisher or anyone else to an interrogation to be quizzed about his political or religious expression is a violation of 800 years of common law, a Universal Declaration of Rights, a Bill of Rights and a Charter of Rights. This commission is applying Saudi values, not Canadian values.
It is also deeply procedurally one-sided and unjust. The complainant – in this case, a radical Muslim imam, who was trained at an officially anti-Semitic university in Saudi Arabia and who has called for sharia law to govern Canada – doesn’t have to pay a penny; Alberta taxpayers pay for the prosecution of the complaint against me. The victims of the complaints, like the Western Standard, have to pay for their own lawyers from their own pockets. Even if we win, we lose – the process has become the punishment. (At this point, I’d like to thank the magazine’s many donors who have given their own money to help us fight against the Saudi imam and his enablers in the Alberta government.)
It is procedurally unfair. Unlike real courts, there is no way to apply for a dismissal of nuisance lawsuits. Common law rules of evidence don’t apply. Rules of court don’t apply. It is a system that is part Kafka and part Stalin. Even this interrogation today – at which I appear under duress – saw the commission tell me who I could or could not bring with me as my counsel and advisers.
I have no faith in this farcical commission. But I do have faith in the justice and good sense of my fellow Albertans and Canadians. I believe that the better they understand this case, the more shocked they will be. I am here under your compulsion to answer the commission’s questions. But it is not I who am on trial: it is the freedom of all Canadians.
You may start your interrogation.