The Interim talks to its first Person of the Year
about human rights commissions
Editor’s Note: Interim editor Paul Tuns interviewed Ezra Levant by e-mail on Dec. 12 about his own case with the Alberta Human Rights Commission and his ongoing battle against the human rights commission industry.
The Interim: In your reply to the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal, famously posted on YouTube, you not only defended yourself against the charges related to publishing the so-called Danish cartoons, but fought back against the entire human rights commission industry. Why?
Ezra Levant: I had been peripherally aware of the problems with Canada’s human rights commissions – how they violated real human rights like freedom of speech and freedom of religion and how they violated natural justice and due process to do so. But it wasn’t until I was ensnared by one of them myself that I truly came to grips with how un-Canadian and unjust they are. I decided to address the weed by the root, not its ugly flower.
It didn’t seem appropriate for me to defend, to a government busybody, the editorial choices of the magazine I published (The Western Standard). To do so would be to grant the government moral and legal authority it lacks. I decided that I would use their interrogation for a different purpose: to expose the tyranny that it represented.
TI: What inspired you to put the video on YouTube – what I would suggest is the single most important moment in the battle against the human rights commission industry.
EL: It was important to me that the interrogation be recorded, for legal reasons – I wanted to lay down the proper paper trail to appeal a guilty verdict to a real court and I had a feeling that the interrogation would be a gong show. My lawyer had to negotiate at some length for the right to record the interrogation – they’re usually done in secret. We didn’t specify that it would be a video recording; when my interrogator walked in, she saw the camera and hesitated briefly, because she had assumed we had meant an audio recording. But it was a Friday afternoon and she seemed to just want to get the thing done, so she didn’t object.
We didn’t agree to any limits on what we could do with the recording, so I decided to upload the video to YouTube. I planned to tell a few friends about it and I thought the clips might get a few thousands views – I never imagined they would become the fifth-most watched video on the internet that weekend, with about 200,000 views in two days, if I recall. (They have since been seen close to 700,000 times.)
Canadians had never seen a journalist interrogated by the government before. Those things aren’t supposed to happen here – we’re not China or Iran. That’s why the video clips were so shocking.
TI: David Warren has said that when it comes to human rights complaints, the process is the punishment. You “won” the case launched by Syed Soharwardy, but did you understand what Warren was saying about the process?
EL: More than 90 per cent of people targeted by Canada’s 14 human rights commissions accept a plea bargain. It’s understandable – the system is rigged against its victims. Unlike real courts, if you win, you are not entitled to your legal costs being paid. The human rights commissioners are not real judges and often not even real lawyers – they’re radical activists who don’t even pretend to be impartial. And at the Canadian Human Rights Commission, their censorship provision has a 100 per cent conviction rate over the past 31 years. No-one has ever been acquitted. Even China and Iran let a few people go as a pretense to impartiality.
I was offered a plea bargain, too. If I paid several thousand dollars in cash to my radical Muslim antagonists, and gave them a page in The Western Standard to write whatever they wanted, I would be let go. That would have saved me about $90,000 in legal fees and hundreds of hours of stress and time. But it would have been extortion.
I note that Bishop Fred Henry agreed to a “compromise” when he was charged with “homophobia” by Alberta’s HRC in 2005 – as part of his deal, he issued a “clarification” of his views on same-sex “marriage.” But he had been quite clear beforehand – his “clarification” was done under duress of the government. I’m sure Bishop Henry regrets not fighting harder, because his capitulation, though modest, gave the HRCs enormous encouragement. If they could bulldoze the bishop of Calgary, surely they could bulldoze anyone.
TI: You began blogging about HRCs and your output has been impressive: thousands of words every month, digging up details, exposing the actions of the tribunals and commissions. Why didn’t you celebrate your win and move on to other issues?
EL: If the goal was simply to save my own skin, I could have accepted the plea deal that was offered to me. But I was so appalled by the system – and every new fact that I learned, as I studied the subject – that I realized I had a duty to fight back. I am an unusually stubborn person, I am not conflict-averse and I have some political, legal and media skills and connections. In other words, I felt uniquely fit to fight back. Let me put it another way: if a neighbour or friend of mine had been charged, instead of me, I’m sure I would have constantly wished he would be tougher or louder or more stubborn or more active in fighting back. From that point of view, it was actually a stroke of good luck that I was targeted; I was a good fit for the fight. I won the three complaints against me. But just because the HRCs are done with me, doesn’t mean I’m done with them!
TI: What is the ultimate goal in this battle against the HRC industry and is it winnable?
EL: You’re right to call it an industry: 14 HRCs, with a combined annual budget of $200 million and 1,000 employees. It’s a parallel court system, that leaves no aspect of Canadian life untouched. But unlike real courts, it’s quite corrupt, one-sided and illiberal. The long-term goal must be to abolish the HRCs and leave legal matters to real courts. It’s an achievable goal in the long term, but it requires what I call “denormalization” – for Canadians to be exposed to the appalling realities of the HRCs. The number one thing the HRCs have going for them is their beautiful name. We have to show Canadians that’s an Orwellian name – they actually destroy our rights. We must publicly ridicule the excesses of the HRCs. And, given their ridiculousness, it’s easy to do.
TI: What’s next for Ezra Levant? I hear you have a book coming out?
EL: I’ve written a book on HRCs called Shakedown. McClelland & Stewart is publishing it in the new year and they are planning a very wide distribution of the book. I’ve won my three HRC complaints. But I have also been hit with more than 20 nuisance suits by the HRC industry – various HRC lawyers, activists and others have hit me with defamation suits and complaints to the law society (demanding I be disbarred for things like using the term “kangaroo court”!) It’s “lawfare” – they’re trying to grind me down, since the regular processes didn’t stop me.
Fortunately, the readers of my blog have helped me cover the $175,000 in legal bills I’ve faced between the HRC complaints and these many other actions, which will probably continue for at least a year.