Righteous crusader or civil rights menace?
Richard Warman says he's fighting hate. Critics say free speech is the real victim.
CHARLIE GILLIS | April 9, 2008 |
Ever since, academic, political and legal heavyweights have been lining up against Section 13 — and by extension, Warman. Martin brought forward his Commons motion, decrying among other things the fact that one man appeared to have turned the commission into his personal hobby horse. Borovoy weighed in on behalf of Maclean's, saying the commissions "ought not to be engaged in suppressing the expression of free opinion." Even Irwin Cotler, the former justice minister and long-time civil rights advocate, agreed the act may need to be tweaked. For Warman, the reaction has been exasperating. He has nothing to do with the cases against Maclean's or Levant, he says, so why take away the legal weapons he uses against unregenerate hate-mongers? But John Dixon, a two-term former president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association who has locked horns with Warman in the past, says it's disingenuous for someone with Warman's means and legal acumen to run from the consequences of his cases. "Unless you're an idiot, you have to be thinking about what kind of conception of the law, what conception of freedom of expression, what conception of the relationship between the individual and the state is cemented in place by your action," he says. "Cases like these foster an atmosphere in which sensible people who know they can't summon the resources to defend themselves will censor themselves. It creates an ever-growing body of very regressive law when it comes to the integrity and freedom of a democratic forum."
And the uncomfortable questions about fairness are starting to pile up. After months of legal stonewalling, the HRC's lawyers lost a bid two weeks ago to keep Steacy from having to testify in an open hearing about his research methods (Maclean's had contested a previous decision to hold the session in camera). On the stand, an alternately truculent and resigned Steacy admitted he had adopted Warman's tactic of logging onto racist websites under the moniker Jadewarr ("short for Jade Warrior, a character from a novel I read as a youth") and pretending to be, in effect, one of the gang. At least three other people, including his manager, knew he was doing it, he said. He denied ever consulting Warman himself on how to log onto the sites, while a second investigator, Hann-ya Rizk, testified she'd received basic Internet search training from the Ottawa lawyer after he left the commission. In previous cases, it has emerged that Warman would drop by commission offices, asking about the progress of his complaints, even having pages printed off to add to his files.
By last week, the case had devolved into a full-blown public relations fiasco: one of Steacy's log-ons to a purported hate site turned out to originate from the wireless Internet account of a woman who lived near the commission offices, yet had no idea her account was in use. The federal privacy commissioner has announced plans to investigate, and the commission has been in damage-contol mode ever since. In an interview earlier this week, general counsel Ian Fine said no commission employees have wireless on their office computers, though he couldn't speak for their private computers. He rejected the suggestion that Warman enjoyed privileged access, saying it's not unusual for commission staff to confer with complainants during the process of an investigation, including to print documents. As for Warman continuing to file complaints during his tenure at the commission, Fine said that the Ottawa lawyer was not permitted to work on his own or any other Section 13 complaints during his two years at the commission. Any citizen has a legal right to file a complaint, Fine noted, "whether or not they work at the Canadian Human Rights Commission."
It's not the first time Warman's use of the law to curb hate speech has produced unintended consequences. Far from the polemics surrounding the Lemire case, he has been locked in a battle that has pitted him against the British author David Icke and — somewhat improbably — against Canadian public libraries. That Icke happens to be one of the great wing nuts of the modern age makes the dispute all the harder to fathom. In a series of delusional tomes, the sportscaster-turned-visionary maintains that humanity is controlled by a circle of influential Jews known as the "Illuminati," who are in turn descended from fourth-dimensional, lizard-like creatures from outer space. He accuses numerous world leaders of engaging in ritual sacrifice of children, including the Queen and former prime minister Brian Mulroney. People like Warman, who seek to shut him down, are written off as stooges for the Illuminati.