On April 7, 2014, the lawyers of both sides of Ezra Levant’s libel trial presented their closing arguments.
As you may expect, the lawyer painted quite different pictures of the conflict. In the presentation of Brian Shiller and Angela Chaisson, Khurrum Awan’s lawyers, Ezra Levant emerged as some kind of an evil and malicious game master, who single-handedly decided to destroy the human rights commissions, those bastions of social justice in Canada. In his wicked quest Levant is willing and ready to trample anybody and anything that may stop him. Unfortunately, his victims became the bright student Awan and the distinguished organization Canadian Islamic Congress, which, despite its founder’s statement that Jews in Israel are a fair target for killing, is not anti-Semitic, because its contributions were appreciated by Dalton McGuinty HIMSELF. As a result, Awan’s life was shattered and he allocated half of his family income to start a lawsuit to clear his reputation from the damage done by the devious Ezra.
Iain McKinnon, on the other hand, lacked the passion of Shiller and Chaisson and presented a chronological description of the conflict intended to show that the comments made by Levant were justified.
Brian Shiller started by saying that Ezra Levant may believe that this is a case of freedom of speech, but it is not. The case is about false statements he made about Mr. Awan. From what we learned about Levant’s views, it looks like he thought Awan was involved in several conflicts of interest.
He thought that Awan was a Muslim fundamentalist, who used our court system to advance his goals. Levant tried to distance himself from bigotry and Islamophobia – he testified that he had many Muslim friends. Nenshi, the Mayor of Calgary, was one of them, but that didn’t stop him from calling Nenshi bigoted. The idea that the Muslims are taking over the world and somebody should stop them is racist.
Levant’s second mission is to abolish the human rights commissions. Here he sees again Muslims, who try to use those commissions to achieve their goals. That obsessive attention is seen in the timing of the events: in 2008 Ezra Levant was dealing with his human rights case in Calgary; in March 2008 he wrote a rant on his blog attacking the human rights commission and the lawyer G. Vigna. The rant contained defamatory statements. Three months later he went after Awan.
Levant’s attack on the judicial process in the HRC was based only on Awan’s case with Maclean’s magazine and demanded that they be abolished. He thinks that the commissions are run by leftists and follow no rules.
He has the right to say those things – we live in a democratic and free society, which guarantees free speech even for the most repugnant views. However, the case is not about free speech – it is about whether the statements about Awan are factual.
Awan was an impressive student. Nothing in his writings proves that he is a radical Muslim or an anti-Semite. He didn’t breach the rules of professional conduct. He is not a serial liar.
Ezra Levant relies on the fair comment defense. Levant compared in his writings Awan to Arafat. The latter had different messages to different audiences when he spoke in Arabic or English. Since Awan was doing the same, stated Levant, it was no wonder he couldn’t find a job.
On another occasion Levant called the Muslim students “little Al Sharptons.” He also accused Awan of using taqiyya to deceive non-Muslims in an affirmative language. This is an attack on the whole Muslim community and is racist. The same applies to the remark about the “mutually acceptable” offer for a Muslim author to write a rebuttal in Maclean’s Magazine. When discussing the issue Levant should’ve formulated it differently to be eligible for the fair comment defense.
Another statement was that Awan was a co-counsel for Mohamed Elmasry – Levant stated that as a fact, it was not a comment. He had no reason to make it. Then it gets worse, when speaking about the hearing in British Columbia, Levant called Awan a witness and drew the conclusion that he was in a conflict of interest as a counsel and a witness. This is a statement of fact, but it is not based in reality and thus it is not a fair comment.
Every commentary must be based on facts. From that point of view, conflict of interest is a serious defamation.
Another statement was that Mr. Joseph was going to hire Awan. Joseph had nothing to do with the firm that hired Awan. So the alleged conflict of interest in this case is even worse defamation. The co-counsel accusation was wrong. Levant was incorrect to say that Awan was going to work for Joseph. He could’ve checked the facts.
The anti-Semitism issue – Levant claimed that the CIC was an anti-Semitic organization. He failed to prove that. Awan was not a member of CIC, Levant used that term, which was incorrect. He was the leader of CIC’s youth organization. Levant didn’t say directly that Awan was an anti-Semite, he hinted at it through innuendo.
Ezra Levant called CIC anti-Semitic in his blog and called Awan their protégé, so a reasonable person would conclude that Awan is an anti-Semite. It was false to claim that Felton was a friend of Awan, they met only at the hearing in British Columbia.
Anti-Semitism is a serious accusation, but Levant had no facts to accuse Awan. Hate damages the reputation of a professional – this is an aggravated damage.
Elmasry made the statement about the Jews in Israel as being a fair target for assassination on the Michael Coren show, but he apologized and he is not the defendant here. It is difficult to determine if he is an anti-Semite.
CIC received letters thanking it for its contributions from distinguished public figures. One of them was the Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty (at this point the audience burst into laughter; Shiller turned around and said that McGuinty was a Premier for 10 years – that caused a new round of laughter).
True, CIC has said things about taking Hamas and Hezbollah out of the terrorist list, but that’s not all to them, CIC has done many positive things. It is ridiculous to compare CIC to KKK – CIC has no anti-Jewish agenda.
The statement that Awan is a liar – there is no reason to think that he is a liar. Such a statement will create an erroneous impression in a reasonable person. Awan didn’t make any demands for money after the initial meeting. The comparison to Al Sharpton was an unfair accusation – Sharpton used to sue and get money for himself, which in Awan’s case is an unfair comment.
Ezra Levant accused Awan of perjury for allegedly lying on the witness stand in British Columbia. He called Awan a malicious lawyer, which is a very strong statement that makes Awan look outrageous. Levant had the responsibility to correct the record about Awan, but because of his hatred for him he didn’t, especially when you consider his activism against the human rights commissions. So, none of the defences applies her, because we have malicious intent.
The Vigna case shows how he uses people to attack the human right commissions. Presenting Awan as a fascist, anti-Semitic Muslim, who would take over the world and use taqiyya.
The real goal of Ezra Levant was to take down the human rights commissions and he has no regard for the truth. He wants to demonize those commissions.
He had no intention to check the facts and when covering the British Columbia hearing, he typed as fast as possible. Levant should’ve corrected the facts about Awan on his blog.
In the case of his response to Awan’s letter to Toronto Star, Levant published things about Awan out of spite and hatred. This was not an isolated incident – he wrote outrageous things about the Canadian Human Rights Commissioner Jennifer Lynch and also made fun of Awan.
Awan is not a liar and anti-Semite, he worked hard in his career, but he has to clear his name. He wants to challenge the hate and restore his reputation.
Then the second lawyer of Awan – Angela Chaisson – took the stand to address the damage done to her client. The damages that the plaintiff suffered exceeded $100,000. Levant’s publications hurt his reputation. According to her, it was touching to listen to Awan’s testimony about the impact of Levant’s defamation on his life.
Awan will never know how many job offers and opportunities he lost because of Levant’s writings. When you look up Awan’s name in search engines, the results that pop up still paint him as an anti-Semite and a liar. Because of that he wasn’t able to enter the law profession with a clean slate.
Ezra Levant’s outrageous conduct damaged Awan’s reputation even after the lawsuit started. Levant was pursuing a campaign against the human rights commissions and Awan became a part of it.
Because of that it is necessary to award punitive damages as well, as a deterrent from future actions.
Ezra Levant never corrected his errors. He treated Awan differently from other people he wrote about. There was definitely malice in his behaviour. Compared to the damages in the Vigna case (where the amount of $25,000 was awarded), here the situation is much more serious. Awan’s reputation was completely destroyed. He will never have back the years he spent under attack, while trying to clear his name. He even had to put the building of his family on hold to pursue the lawsuit against Levant – one of the family salaries had to go toward covering the legal costs.
That ended the closing statements of Awan’s lawyers.
Iain McKinnon, Ezra Levant’s lawyer, was the next to talk.
He explained that the best way to explain the case was through following the timeline of the events. This approach will show that the comments made by Ezra Levant are justifiable.
In 2004 Awan started his community service at CIC and later he got scholarship from them. He testified on behalf of the organization at the House of Commons on issues like terrorism, same-sex marriage, human rights, etc.
He was so effective that they appointed him a leader of the CIC youth organization. Whether he was a formal CIC member didn’t matter much – he was heavily involved in the work of CIC and the promotion of their platform.
Awan claimed in his testimony that he ended his ties with CIC in 2008, which was not true. In 2009 he was offered an editorial board position in the newly-founded by Elmasry Canadian Charger magazine. He also introduced Elmasry at the magazine’s fundraiser.
When Mohamed Elmasry made his anti-Semitic remarks that every Jew in Israel over 18 is a fair target for murder, the video spread widely. Awan claimed that he had never seen what Elmasry said, which is unconceivable.
In 2006 Elmasry wrote an article, in which he compared the Israeli government policies to the South African apartheid regime. These are facts. They are the basis, on which everybody could determine that CIC and Elmasry held anti-Semitic views. The comment that somebody is an anti-Semite is an opinion that a person draws from the activities of people or organizations.
In 2006 B’nai B’rith issued a press release criticizing Elmasry.
Then CIC issued another press release, which called for removing Hamas and Hezbollah from the Canadian government list of terrorist organizations. Awan said that he never saw that press release, which is also inconceivable. People with such views open themselves to comments expressing honest opinion.
After that the Mclean’s controversy started. In March 2007 the three students demanded editorial control over an issue of the magazine to counter the alleged “Islamophobic” writings published previously. In April 2007 Awan filed a complaint against the magazine with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Soon after that Elmasry filed his complaint with the human rights commission of British Columbia, which is basically identical with the complaint filed by Awan. The latter most likely also wrote the B.C. complaint, which makes him a co-author.
A few months later Elmasry filed the Canadian Human Rights Commission complaint, which was also identical with the original Awan complaint. Again, that makes him an author.
During the proceedings about the complaints, Whyte from Maclean’s stated that the students wanted to publish in the magazine five-page article by author of their choice.
Awan also started a media campaign in 2007, which consisted of series of press releases and letters to newspapers. In a letter to the Globe and Mail, published in December 2007, he mentioned that the students demanded from Maclean’s the publication of an article by a mutually acceptable author. After that more letters followed, stating the “mutually agreeable” claim.
When Ezra Levant called Awan a “serial liar” he was referring to the “mutually agreeable author” claim, which was repeated many times in publications by Awan, but was refuted by Awan himself when he testified at the British Columbia hearing and said it was not true.
At the same hearing Ezra Levant saw Awan assisting Elmasry and Joseph – and his impression might be right. Awan might have sat at the counsel table and the comment by Levant reflects the impression that he assisted Joseph.
Awan was criticized by other journalists and columnists, Ezra Levant wasn’t the only one. Those pieces were published in major newspapers. It is strange that Awan claims that he never saw those publications.
The article by Felton in Canadian Arab News is a similar issue – it quoted Awan saying that the human rights complaints made the costs of criticizing Islam very high. Awan denies that he said those words, yet he never contacted the paper or Felton to correct the inaccuracy. The attempt to discredit the article on the basis that Felton is a conspiracy theorist, who can’t be trusted, is not convincing. There is no reason to doubt that he would cover correctly his conversation with Awan.
Another important issue to determine is the reputation damage done to Awan.
Awan was not always the topic of Levant’s writings – often he was just mentioned in passing. For example, the “little Al Sharptons” remark was a very short part in a paragraph from a post that dealt with the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
The same could be said about other charges – on one occasion Levant quoted an Australian blogger about Awan.
When we look at the blog after the British Columbia hearing, it is clear that Awan was mentioned by Levant in very few posts and only in passing. Then for over six months Awan wasn’t mentioned at all. Later Awan was talked about only briefly in Levant’s book “Shakedown.”
Then Awan came back by writing a letter to the Toronto Star in response to an article by Ezra Levant. The article deals with Israel and the Canadian Jewish Congress and briefly mentions Muslim groups that harass people with pro-Jewish views. It didn’t mention Awan at all.
Awan claimed that after the Maclean’s case he kept his head low, yet he wrote a letter about an article, where he is not even cited. His entire letter is about the Maclean’s case – he is poking Ezra Levant, calling his position “Islamophobic” without any proof. So Levant responded in his blog.
Awan is doing the same thing with his lawsuit – he claims that all he wants is peaceful life, yet he brings even more attention to himself and his past.
Awan never contacted Ezra Levant to correct his posts. This is in stark contrast with Maclean’s, where he asked for correction of their position. Ezra Levant has done corrections to his posts when asked. Awan testified that he thought Levant was unreasonable, that’s why he never gave him a chance before launching his libel lawsuit.
Awan said he put his family life on hold for the lawsuit. However, despite the claims, he has been employed by a top law firm, his life hasn’t been destroyed. He even was chosen as one of the 40 promising professionals in Saskatchewan. Nothing of what Ezra Levant wrote about him had impact on Awan’s life.
Ezra Levant’s blog posts have a low reach compared to the publications of the mainstream media. Also, there is no evidence that Awan had job applications denied because of those writings.
In the original claim Awan even stated that he had been shunned by friends over the writings of Levant. He later dropped that statement.
Mr. Shiller said previously that this was like in the Vigna case, but it is incorrect. Vigna was a human rights lawyer and wasn’t involved in public disputes the way Awan was.
Mr. Shiller laso said that Ezra Levant called Awan anti-Semite. McKinnon didn’t think he did, but if he did, he would be right – Awan was closely aligned with an organization that had anti-Semitic views. The issue was not whether he shared their opinions, but that a reasonable person can make the same conclusion after observing his association with such an organization.
That concluded Iain McKinnon’s closing arguments.
Then Brian Shiller took the stand again and addressed emotionally a few issues in MvKinnon’s arguments. Among other remarks, he said that the complaints to the three human rights commissions were identical, because some people chose to copy the Ontario claim, which covered similar issues. Also, the work Awan did for the CIC was a community service mandated by his college.
That was the last presentation by the lawyer, after which the judge left.
I guess now we have to wait patiently for her decision. It is difficult to guess what that decision might be. One thing is sure – Khurrum Awan definitely didn’t experience a catastrophe that destroyed his life. It would be an offense to other real victims, if Justice Matheson takes his claims seriously and convicts Ezra Levant. However, in our politically correct society, where the human rights commissions managed to establish the paradigm that all views held by a member of a minority are unquestionable, it gets harder and harder to get real justice.
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