Human rights racket

Ezra Levant’s case against a tribunal system that flattens civil liberties in Canada


Human rights racketIf, when the history is written, 2008 turns out to be the beginning of the end for Canada’s human rights commissions, the beginning of the beginning of the end will no doubt prove to be the moment last January, in a dingy office in downtown Calgary, when Ezra Levant switched on his video camera.

Levant, then the publisher of the Western Standard magazine, had been summoned to appear before an investigator with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission. His crime? Publishing the famous “Danish cartoons,” a collection of images of the prophet Muhammad that had set off anti-Western protests across the Muslim world. A single complaint from a local imam had been enough to plunge Levant and his magazine into a two-year, $100,000 bureaucratic nightmare. And that’s just his own costs: with 15 staff assigned full-time to his case, he reckons the cost to Alberta taxpayers at upwards of $500,000.

Also at Macleans.ca: Exclusive excerpt from Levant’s new book: How McDonald’s hand-washing policy was overruled

The commission had offered Levant the usual shortcuts to avoid further unpleasantness—mediation, plea bargaining, anything that would imply his guilt. Levant refused. When at length it demanded he appear for an “interview,” he had his own demand ready: that the session be open to the media. When that was refused (commission hearings being generally held behind closed doors), Levant asked to be allowed to record the proceedings. That request, to investigator Shirlene McGovern’s everlasting regret, was granted.

The video—90 minutes of Levant, mostly, denouncing the commission and asserting his right to publish whatever “the hell” he wanted—was an Internet sensation, viewed more than 600,000 times on YouTube. It infuriated the bloggers, aroused the media, and made a star of Levant. Mostly, it provided a window on the absurdist world of the AHRCC and its 13 federal, provincial, and territorial cousins. It is one thing to read about them, after all. It is another to actually see them at work. Within 10 days, McGovern had asked to be reassigned. A couple of weeks later, the complainant dropped his case.

And yet Levant had little to celebrate in the end—not least because the magazine the commission had spent two years investigating was, in an especially Kafkaesque touch, no longer publishing. He had prevailed, at great cost in time and money (the latter defrayed in part by Internet donations). But the commission was still there, broadly intact. And while public and media opinion had rallied to his side, there was the risk that this would be seen as a one-off, a case of bureaucratic overzealousness and no more.

In fact, as events throughout the year demonstrated, 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.

Levant’s new book, Shakedown: How Our Government Is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights (McClelland & Stewart, Toronto), makes a persuasive argument to this effect. Weaving together a number of seemingly disparate examples, he shows how they stem from the same malignant source. Some, such as the case excerpted here, will strike readers as silly, betraying an inability on the commissions’ part to make common sense distinctions between private disputes and matters of genuine public interest. Others, such as the case of Rev. Stephen Boisson, are more ominous. Having written an admittedly anti-gay letter to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate, Boisson was barred for life by the AHRCC from ever uttering a disparaging word about homosexuals again: a penalty of almost whimsical despotism. No court could pronounce such a sentence, because no law prescribes it. The commission made it up.

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.

And as the number of cases of genuine discrimination, the kind the commissions were set up to combat, has dwindled, commissions have ranged further and further afield, taking on ever more marginal cases from ever more marginal complainants. Most notoriously, the definition of “human rights” has been stretched to include the right to prevent others from publishing material deemed “offensive.” It’s not the thin-skinned hotheads who bring such complaints that ought to worry us. It’s the otherwise sensible people who take their cases, investigating and deliberating over them in all seriousness, that show how topsy-turvy things have become. 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.


Human rights racket

  1. I don’t know anyone that watched the videos whose primary take away wasn’t how pompous, mean-spirited nihilistic and attention-seeking Levant is.

    • I guess you don’t have many friends than or they all think exactly like you. Tens of thousands of people have watched those videos and many, probably right-wingers, think he did rather well in front of that apparatchik.

      Keep it up Ezra, it is nice to have high profile people fighting against the creeping tentacles of the State thought police.

      • I have plenty of friends and others around me that think nothing like me. and you might want to note that nowhere in my comment did it say that, I, nor the people I know that watched it, disagree with his argument (as opposed to the grade school petulance with which it was delivered).

    • I agree with you completely.

      But he is entirely correct on this issue.

    • Levant needs to grow up.

      • How else can one respond to this “joke” of a human rights inquisition but in a joking manner? Levant simply hands the buffoons back as good as they give. I applaud him!

  2. It only cost that much because Levant decided to show-boat and stage debates with junior investigators on the intertoobz, when he could have replied with a simple letter. Hey Ezra! I’m an Alberta taxpayer! Can I get my money back?

  3. Bureaucratic nightmare? Kafkaesque? Procedural abuse?


    Both MacLeans and Levant have enjoyed every single second of showboating through their ill-conceived, misleading human rights diatribes. Bank on it. They know the risks are minimal and they can rope in the credulous for internet hits.

  4. The comments about Levant and Macleans are irrelevant. The facts speak for themselves. Critiquing the messenger does not detract one iota from the abhorant actions of the
    Human Rights Commissions. the Human rights commissions are frightening tools of political correctness. George Orwell’s 1984 was a fictional dystopia trumped by the reality of Canada’s HRC’s. To be a free citizen and not see the threat these commissions pose defines apathy.

    Personally I think that Levant, Steyn, and others are true Canadian hero’s that deserve official recognition for their efforts. It would be the least a population could do to demonstrate appreciation for sounding the bugle alarm on the evil within the HRC trojan horse that has gradually been eroding our freedom.

  5. Here’s an idea…how about we get some magazine like, oh, Maclean’s barred from posting comments by people because they may be offensive to others. Then we can all try to post comments. When it doesn’t happen, we can sue the human right’s tribunal by way of complaining to the human rights tribunal.

    The question is…what are they going to do when their the defendant?

  6. We don’t like people who stick up for themselves in this country. It’s somehow “unCanadian”. When someone does so successfully, we figure they’re brash and impolite. I’m delighted that Mr. Levant persisted in his quest. I’m sure it would have been cheaper and easier just to cave in–as many did in the past. However, in standing up for himself, he has perhaps made it less likely that other ordinary Canadians will find themselves before such a kangaroo court.

  7. To set the record straight, Ezra Levant has never been either an MP or an MLA.

    Ezra is using his position to promote necessary change in this country. He isn’t the first to do so and hopefully he won’t be the last.

    It’s true that many of those who have gone before were little people with no clout or money. We owe Ezra a debt of gratitude for using his stature and abilities to draw attention to the injustices these little people have had to suffer. He has done them, and all of us, a greart service. Only a small mind would fault him for this because he might have gained some notoriety for himself while doing so.

    H. Jansen

  8. I think when EGALE supports the rights of Boisson to say what he did, which they did, you can probably surmise that this has gone far enough.

    They had a useful function when they were ensuring the rights of women to equal employment opportunities, but some of the cases now are just ridiculous.

    They have become the authors of their own demise, time to shut them down given that they cannot police themselves.

  9. When it comes to human rights issues in this country the veil of hypocrisy must be lifted to reveal the real truth of the matter. I think that Levant did that somewhat in his arguments against the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Others have either done the same thing or are trying to make this socalled human rights organization more accountable in regards to those human rights issues in this country which are also in jeopardy at this time. There has even been allegations made against it in regards to internet spying as a means of further suppressing freedom of speech. This organization has done very little to protect human rights in this country and it is time that its actions are exposed. For more on human rights abuse in Canada you can also follow my blog and read up about the corruption that is also a part of this process as well. Human rights abuse and government corruption goes hand in hand.
    the URL to my site is http://valerieguillaume.blogspot.com.

    • Sorry that you are not able to access my blog (http://valerieguillaume.blogspot.com) directly from this site. You can easily access it from google or yahoo. It is called. "Truth Speaks. Canada's Human Right Abuse Exposed!
      The fact that someone has blocked access to my blog from this site, says a lot about its contents and what some people don't want to hear, which is the truth. It is worth reading so look it up and learn the real truth about human rights abuse in Canada.
      Valerie Guillaume.

  10. The entire Canadian political-legal culture has nothing but contempt for traditional liberal rights concepts. Instead, these values have been entirely displaced by the intolerant dogmas of political correctness, which have adopted the name of 'substantive rights.' The modern Star Chambers of this new ideology are the 'Human Rights' Commissions, but I'm afraid getting rid of these institutions will do little to extirpate the anti-rights culture of Canada, which extends from police brutality at the bottom to the illiberalism of the Supreme Court at the top.

  11. Looks kinda like a kids game. Democracy or not, it's all politics.

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