On the fifth day of Ezra Levant’s trial things became more interesting – the defendant had the whole day to tell his version of the story. He answered the questions of his lawyer, Iain McKinnon, leading us through the chain of events that followed the most publicized censorship trial in Canada.
Before telling what happened, based on my notes, let me say a word about the media. While the courtroom is filled with Ezra’s supporters, no representatives of the media are present, other than Christie Blatchford. I already wrote about her article, in which she noticed the soft side of the Three Jihad Musketeers.
After the Friday hearing, the venerable Ms. Blatchford published another condescending article mocking the defendant: Ezra Levant insists he’s not a ‘reporter.’ On this, everyone agrees.
“Testifying” doesn’t quite capture the indefatigable Mr. Levant in full flight Friday at Ontario Superior Court in downtown Toronto.
His evidence-in-chief was part soliloquy, part lecture and all theatre, as befits the man who begins his prime-time, five-days-a-week show on Sun TV with a monologue which, as he told Judge Wendy Matheson, once went on so long “we had to cancel the commercials” because it had morphed into a “rant” of an hour.
I find it strange that the target of her snobbish mockery is a person, who has dedicated his life to fight for free speech. Ms. Blatchford apparently has forgotten that in November 2010 she was also silenced at the University of Waterloo, where three students chained themselves on the stage and prevented her from speaking.
Judging from her soft spot for the Maclean’s wannabe censors, it looks to me that in her world a disgusting deed becomes acceptable when done by 3 Muslim “Canucks,” but it is censorship when 3 white students do the same.
And there is another thing – she is condescending, because the Canadian journalism is a small incestuous cast that doesn’t like outsiders. Controversy is frowned upon, unless you find a safe non-existent scandal (like the “robocalls”) or attack an unsophisticated “brute” like Rob Ford, who doesn’t think that the best use of his weekend is to march in a gay parade.
Well, Ezra is the chubby Jewish guy from Calgary, who came out of nowhere and dropped like a stone into the Toronto media puddle. He makes waves and has the wrong political views. Since it is not easy to decide what to do with him, the best course of action is to keep repeating that he is not one of them.
Near the end of the article she weighs on the legal merits of Ezra Levant’s defence:
Mr. MacKinnon told the judge in his opening statement Mr. Levant’s defence is largely that of fair comment — traditionally the defence that is the purview of journalists.
And yet Mr. Levant, by his own admission, is not a journalist. “I’m a commentator, I’m a pundit,” he explained to the judge. “I don’t think in my entire life I’ve ever called myself a reporter.”
And he appears to have considered it Mr. Awan’s responsibility to have contacted him if he had a complaint about what he was writing, when, in fact, most journalists consider it their burden to contact those about whom they’re writing.
Maybe she should’ve consulted somebody before writing this nonsense. Limitation defence is the only one that is the purview of journalists, if the comment appears in a printed newspaper or magazine (3 months in Ontario). The fair comment defence is available to everybody accused of libel.
In their classic book on libel and slander law – Canadian Libel and Slander Actions – Roger D. McConchie and David A. Potts point out that when using the fair comment defence, the burden is on the defendant to prove that the expression is:
“Recognizable by the ordinary reasonable person as comment on a matter of public interest, based upon facts that are true (or facts stated on a privileged occasion) and made honestly and fairly.” (page 337)
A few pages further they clarify the difference between comment and fact, based on Myerson v. Smith’s Weekly Publishing Co., Ltd. (1923), 24 S.R. (N.S.W.) 20:
“To say that a man’s conduct was dishonourable is not comment, it is a statement of fact. To say that he did certain specific things and thus his conduct was dishonourable is a statement of fact coupled with a comment.” (page 339)
As you will see later, when reading Ezra’s testimony, he makes a clear case that under the circumstances, when posting to his blog, he made fair comments on the testimony of Mr. Awan in British Columbia and his previous statements. That was not hard to see behind the alleged “theatrics.” Anybody could’ve made those comments as an opinion about the facts they learned – I fail to see how an interview with Awan could’ve changed those facts.
Ezra Levant continued with his testimony about his first brush with the human rights commissions. ISCC and other groups were involved in the Danish cartoons case. It was directed against him and the magazine. He didn’t expect they were serious. He had to pay the legal expenses himself.
At certain point, he received a settlement offer – Imam Syed Soharwardy offered to write an article on a full page of the magazine, without interference from the editors. On top of that, he wanted to be paid $2,000-$3,000. (Sounds familiar?)
Ezra’s lawyer told him that such an offer was normal and most people used to settle under such circumstances. Ezra didn’t accept the offer. Then he learned that under the Human Rights Code the tribunals had extensive powers, including search and seizure of property, including documents and computers.
At that moment he realized how flawed the system was. The very structure of the human rights commissions had blurry borders of duties – there was no clear distinction between prosecutors, investigators and “judges.”
The result was that after 900 days spent dealing with the case, Imam Syed Soharwardy dropped the claim. Ezra didn’t get anything – there was no option under the Human Rights Code to recover his legal expenses.
He decided not to go quietly. When he was called for an interrogation over the claim, he was told that he could bring only one lawyer and no other people. Surprisingly, they allowed him to film the interrogation. It was a humiliating experience during which the investigator grilled him over his religious and political views.
As soon as he had the video, he uploaded it to YouTube, learning how to use the site in the process. The video soon went viral. It was a huge embarrassment for the HRC.
The interrogation took place in January 2008, two years after the claim was filed. The imam soon dropped the claim, but Ezra didn’t realize that he also filed an ethics claim with the law society of Alberta. He had to deal with it as well.
They dropped the claim because he exposed them. The experience convinced him that he had to continue with the civil liberties activism. He started to cover similar cases on his blog, with the purpose to scrutinize the practices of the human rights commissions.
He found out that many people, who were prosecuted by those commissions, were neo-Nazis, supporters of marginal causes and generally unpopular people, with no access to the media. He published a book (Shakedown), which detailed those experiences – he went to different jurisdictions and discovered many shocking cases.
In it he wanted to emphasize the difference between the normal courts and the kangaroo courts represented by the human rights commissions. The book became a bestseller and was appreciated by people from different sides of the political spectrum.
The idea was to change those human rights commissions. After all that work, the movement took off and eventually the censorship provision, Section 13 of Canada’s Human Rights Code, was repealed.
In 2009 he started writing articles for different publications as a freelancer. He also wrote a book about terrorism, dealing with the convicted terrorist Omar Khadr; another one about the Canadian ethical oil and has another one in the making about fracking.
In 2011 Ezra joined Sun News with his own show named The Source. He also started to write a syndicated column for the national Sun newspapers chain. Ezra also received Queen’s Jubilee Medal specifically for his activism on behalf of free speech. The weekend before the trial started, he received the award of the Free Press Society of Denmark.
His TV show deals with controversial political issues. In it he also interviews liberal Muslims who defend free speech.
McKinnon asked about his views on Islam and Muslims.
Ezra said that he has strong views. In high school he had a good friend whom he debated often – Naheed Nenshi. They even formed a debate team – a right-wing Jew and a left-wing Muslim. He got to know many Ismaili Muslims, who according to his impressions were freedom loving and tolerant people. Ezra still admires the Ismaili Islam.
Ezra took part in the campaign of Rahim Jaffer, who became the first Muslim MP in Canada. His whole life he had worked with outstanding Muslims, who have often been attacked by radical Muslims and hated for holding different views. He has learned never to trust people like Mohamed Elmasry, who are bigoted and anti-Semitic. Ezra has studied the Koran and Islam in general, with the major concepts of taqiyya, jihad, etc.
Then the lawyer asked how Ezra learned about the Maclean’s complaint.
He learned like everyone else – after it was reported in the media. Surprisingly, Maclean’s magazine kept the claims secret; the Muslim students were the ones who revealed them.
Several illiberal Muslim organizations suddenly decided to go against a few people involved in the publication of Steyn’s article. Ezra knew that Mark Steyn wasn’t the caricature that Awan created, Mark Steyn isn’t anti-Islamic.
Awan’s approach to Maclean’s was in essence Marxist, he and his group wanted to force a private publication to publish something that suited him, ignoring the independence of the magazine. Ezra also recalled the first time he heard Elmasry speak – it was at a panel, where they appeared together. He was shocked by his anti-Semitic views.
Then he heard Elmasry’s remark at the Michael Coren show, where he stated that everybody in Israel over 18 years old is a fair target for killing by terrorists. It was clear that the whole philosophy of Elmasry depended on hating Jews.
Those anti-Semitic tendencies didn’t go unnoticed – in 2006 the Canadian Islamic Congress was cut off from government funding.
Here McKinnon introduced the transcript of Elmasry’s remarks on the Coren show – October 19, 2004, and another document concerning Emasry’s views about the Israeli apartheid.
Ezra noted that these are tools to delegitimize the State of Israel by using the Holocaust experience in an inappropriate way. When we think of this, even the use of the term anti-Semitism provides too wide interpretation of the phenomenon, which was known before as simple Jew-hate.
McKinnon: Did you write about the complaints themselves?
Yes, Levant covered them from the point that the human rights commissions were created as something progressive, but eventually they were taken over by extremists. In the case of the British Columbia hearing of the complaint against Maclean’s, he had special interest, because that jurisdiction had the craziest decisions. Ezra had to be in the court to observe and learn. He thought he was qualified to cover the event.
His coverage was going directly into his blog.
McKinnon: What did you base your comments on?
Ezra wanted to cover quickly what he saw, especially the procedural issues, which some reporters could find boring or difficult to understand. He also wanted to point out the differences in the operation between a real court and the human rights commissions.
McKinnon: Where did the participants sit?
He didn’t remember every one today. Ezra remembered where he was – in the back, right behind the table where Faisal Joseph and the three students were sitting. He observed the students running around with documents, copying, binding and assisting Mr. Joseph in different ways. Faisal Joseph and Khurrum Awan were the two primary actors in the event.
After the lunch break McKinnon asked a question about the specific techniques of blogging, related to the specific posts that caused the complaint. Why did he call Awan a “serial liar”?
Ezra learned at the hearing that the real story behind the students’ claims was different. For months they claimed that they offered Maclean’s to publish a rebuttal article by a mutually agreeable author, but actually at the meeting they asked for editorial control over the piece. On the stand, under oath, Awan admitted that what he said again and again was not true. The description of that as serial lies applied to the constant repetition of claims that smeared Mr. Whyte and other people involved in the case.
The students were also called “Junior Al Sharptons”. That was reminiscent of the methods Al Sharpton used to extort money. He used to approach different companies accusing them of racism, but then explained that he could drop the charges and stop the campaign if they donated money to one of his foundations. He created a crisis and collected money to resolve it.
McKinnon: What is the meaning of the word “taqiyya”?
Ezra replied that taqiyya is a concept in sharia law, which gives permission to Muslims to use deception in a moment of crisis. The issue was discussed in two expert reports prepared for the both sides (Raymond Ibrahim wrote Ezra Levant’s report), but they were dropped. The essence of taqiyya is that it permits deviation from the principles of Islam, if a Muslim needs to avoid danger.
Then McKinnon gave more examples of using the word “liar” about Awan and Ezra explained how they applied to specific statements by Awan, most of them related to the “mutually agreeable” lie, which they repeated numerous times. And suddenly it was revealed at the trial.
Ezra still maintains that Awan was a “liar” because he misrepresented the demands. He (allegedly) drafted all claims and made Whyte look like a racist.
Maclean’s lawyer Julian Porter read at the trial a letter from the students demanding substantial amount of money. Ezra’s conclusion about the facts revealed is still that Awan is a liar.
A year after the British Columbia hearing, the Toronto Star published a column by Ezra Levant on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Israel policy. The column had nothing to do with the Canadian Islamic Congress and Awan, yet the latter wrote a letter to the editor, in which he attacked Ezra Levant. That shows that Awan tried to engage Ezra by accusing him of being Islamophobic. He never received a personal e-mail from Awan.
McKinnon: You also said that the CIC sent a proxy to the hearing?
Ezra replied that Awan was a TV debater, he drafted the claims, wrote documents, etc.
McKinnon: What was your reference in the blog about soft jihad and lawfare?
Ezra explained the differences between different forms of jihad.
As a result of that fiasco, the CIC and the students involved received very negative reactions in the press. Even the CBC disapproved of their approach. That made Awan change his ways significantly – he moved far away from Toronto to Regina, where he started a career in a non-political field. Then, noted Ezra, he suddenly decided to hire two lawyers at $1,000 per hour on his salary of a junior lawyer and sue him.
Ezra explained why he thought Awan had anti-Semitic views. There was a note he made on the Garth Turner blog. He described Garth Turner’s support for Israel in an inacceptable way – he labeled Turner as behaving as an outpost for the Israeli Likud Party in Canada. Awan was actually saying to an MP that he behaved like a Likud Jew. To support Israel was seen as an act of disloyalty to Canada. That is not different than the conspiracy theory of the Jewish world domination. As a Jew, Ezra found that especially offensive and painful.
The trial continues on Monday with a clash between Ezra Levant and Awan’s lawyers…
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