Today was the second day of the highly anticipated political trial against Ezra Levant, who is being sued for libel by Khurrum Awan, a Muslim activist and lawyer, best known for his role in the censorship case against Mark Steyn and Maclean’s Magazine.
A major sign that the trial is highly charged and political is the fact that Awan is represented by Brian Shiller from Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan. Clayton Ruby’s glorious team has been involved in a series of such cases, like Paul Magder’s attempt to remove Mayor Rob Ford from office (they lost); another libel case – Foulidis vs. Rob Ford (also lost); apparently they will also represent the alleged child pornographer Benjamin Levin from Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal circle.
Hopefully, Mr. Awan, who alleges that his life was shattered by Ezra’s insensitive remarks, has enough money left to pay for the services of that exclusive firm.
Unfortunately, I missed the first day. Today many supporters of Ezra Levant, including Mark Steyn, filled the small courtroom – there wasn’t enough room for everybody. During the whole day, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the court’s time was occupied only by the cross examination of Khurrum Awan.
He was asked a series of questions by his own lawyer Brian Shiller. Awan denied the credibility of a report that was widely circulated a few years ago, originally published by Arab News, where he stated that Maclean’s and Steyn spent $2 million on defense and that will deter others from criticizing Islam in the future. He was apparently misunderstood and misquoted. He didn’t even remember saying anything like that.
Awan’s real goal in filing all those human rights lawsuits was to bring more awareness to Muslim literature and combat “Islamophobia.”
Let me mention here that denial was his strategy during the court proceedings. I remember his cocky interviews on TV, in which he didn’t hide the role he played in achieving that “victory.” Today we saw a poor traumatized guy, who played a very minor role and who can’t even remember what exactly happened during the human rights trials. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a very successful performance.
When asked if it was true that he is involved in lawfare, Awan vehemently denied – there is no such thing; he never had the intention to use lawsuits as weapons. He also was vaguely aware of the statement of Mohammed Elmasry (from the Canadian Islamic Congress, CIC) that everybody in Israel over the age of 18 is a legitimate target.
Awan was just as elusive when his lawyer asked him about the damages he suffered from Ezra Levant’s statements. He was deeply hurt and embarrassed by being called anti-Semitic, because he works with Jewish co-workers. He didn’t elaborate on any negative effects of that.
He similarly answered the question about the lost opportunities – he believed he missed a few chances, but had hard time being specific. Previously, in Google searches for his name, the top pages were related to Ezra’s statements about him and the human rights cases he filed. It is common practice for prospective employers to do similar searches. However, he was unable to tell if those search results hurt him in any way. Today similar results, although not that many, still appear in Google.
His lawyer asked again if those search results prevented certain firms from hiring him. Awan believes that there were such firms, but was unable to name even one. He sent out many applications for work and received responses and was called for interviews – again, he couldn’t provide evidence that the responses were substantially fewer than normal.
Then Shiller inquired why he is suing Ezra Levant. The main reason was to restore his damaged reputation – when Ezra called him a “liar” that potentially hurt his standing with courts, because they won’t take seriously a liar. That situation from his point of view is a substantial damage. He simply wants Ezra to leave him alone, because the current firm he works for is happy with Awan.
And what about the jihadist allegations, asked Shiller. Awan played this piece better – he said it was a very bad accusation for a Muslim. It was humiliating to be called jihadist. At this point he became emotional, stop talking for a moment and I have the feeling that he shed a tear. Then he went on – as a productive member of the society, he was terrified by being looped together with the Boston bomber and Osama bin Laden.
He is disgusted with the jihadists who should be punished in this and the next life. What he does is simple advocacy for Muslim rights and human rights causes, not different from what thousands of other people do.
Then he said again that he needs to take his life back. He was disappointed that there were people, who don’t want to discuss Islam, but go for personal attacks (And you wonder why?! If they discuss it in the wrong way, you’ll sue them.)
Awan made astonishing sacrifices – his intention was to work for free on social causes, but now he had to take a paid job to cover his legal expenses. He has also been called a serial litigator and an affirmative action graduate.
His performance on the stand was astonishingly weak. For all the money they charge, Clayton Ruby’s top-notch law firm should’ve prepared him better. Or maybe simply there was not much to work with…
After that Iain McKinnon took over. As a result of his questions, Awan had to double down on selling his image of a confused law student, who somehow got in the middle of a nasty human rights battle. Since he denied that he played any significant role in the preparation of Elmasry’s case filed in British Columbia, McKinnon grilled Awan for over an hour with comparisons of Elmasry’s document with the one presented by Awan at the Ontario HRC. It turned out in the end that both documents were practically identical.
Again, Awan became confused when asked if he worked for Elmasry and CIC. McKinnon brought up a letter to Jason Kenney from Awan, where he has an electronic signature identifying him as representative of CIC. Awan said again that he was confused at the time and included the wrong signature.
Then McKinnon read testimonies from the British Columbia trial, which identified Awan as a major player in the lawsuit. Again, the plaintiff went out of his way to explain that his involvement was misunderstood.
Ezra’s lawyer continued to dismantle Awan’s defenses – he brought up the coverage of the British Columbia trial by Brian Hutchinson in National Post. In two articles Awan was identified as a person who assisted in the preparation of the case. With annoying predictability Awan tried to project again the image of the little law student, who didn’t have any importance.
After that McKinnon moved to the particulars of the initial confrontation with Maclean’s Magazine. Awan’s group demanded either a space for a large Islamic article or a substantial donation to a Muslim organization. The lawyer asked: in the general sense, wouldn’t such demand be considered shakedown and extortion attempt?
Again and again Awan was misunderstood – that wasn’t extortion at all. His group of students saw the requested donation as a token of support for the Muslims in Canada. Also, providing space for the Muslim point of view in Maclean’s was seen by the group as affirming the free speech principle (It looks like the Muslims have a very odd understanding of free speech.)
Then McKinnon asked Awan if he would’ve proceeded with the charges if the money and publication demands were met. Awan tried very hard to wiggle his way out of that difficult question, but he wasn’t very successful.
The trial continues tomorrow…
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