PJ Media

The Committee of Public Sensitivity: An Interview with Ezra Levant

The current rush to socialize the American economy will bring more and more of us in touch with bureaucracy in all of its incompetent and uncaring forms. Canada’s ahead of us in the process of eradicating individual liberties. Indigenous to the Great White North is a breed of totalitarian we seldom see here outside of a university. They reside within the confines of their human rights commissions (HRCs) and enforce political correctness throughout the land. They make their living by hiding from the electorate their true purpose while terrorizing those who are too poor to defend themselves.

Luckily, in the midst of a routine matanza, the committee mistakenly selected a victim with the will and the resources to fight back. Indeed, his spirited defense now endangers their entire existence. The name of this person is Ezra Levant and he is a lawyer, journalist, public intellectual, and former editor of the Western Standard. Previously, he authored Fight Kyoto, Youthquake, and The War on Fun.

After republishing in 2006 the infamous Danish cartoons of Mohammed, he soon found himself facing one of the HRC tribunals. We are fortunate that he filmed the event and posted the proceedings online for the sake of posterity. Watching him vivisection a dull minion of the state is quite pleasurable. This particular desk-jockey ran into a lawyer who, unlike herself, possessed talent and zeal. His struggle and the state of affairs in Canada are described in great detail in Levant’s recently released book, Shakedown: How Our Government Is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights.

BC: Congratulations on the success of your book, Mr. Levant. For those who are unfamiliar, what exactly is a Canadian human rights commission (HRC)? Do they function independent of the regular court system?

Ezra Levant: Thanks. In Canada, HRCs are government agencies. There are fourteen of them in the country — one for every province and territory, and one national HRC. They’re “quasi-judicial tribunals” — that means they’re sort of like courts. They have the power to hold hearings and issue rulings — including fines and other punishments, such as forced apologies. Their rulings are filed at real courts and take on the force of law. To ignore a human rights commission order is to be in contempt of court — for which the punishment can include prison.

HRCs lack crucial elements of natural justice; they resemble kangaroo courts. But it’s not just their procedures that are un-Canadian (and un-American). It’s their substance: they prosecute “human rights” cases that aren’t real human rights at all — like the counterfeit “right not to be offended.” I was prosecuted for 900 days under that one.

BC: Are the HRCs an example of a good idea gone mad or were they never a good idea in the first place?

Ezra Levant: I think it’s a good idea for us to get along, regardless of race or sex, etc. But most of life’s little grievances and setbacks are too trivial to be arbitrated by the government. We shouldn’t criminalize mere rudeness or offensiveness. And we shouldn’t dress up a political action committee as a neutral arbiter of justice.

BC: You had two tactics in fighting back: “1. Denormalize the commissions; and 2. Press legislators to act.” What do you mean by denormalize? And could conservatives make more use of your methods as a means of combating PC orthodoxy?

Ezra Levant: I think most debates are won or lost before they’ve even begun. That’s because one side manages to define the terms of the debate and even the vocabulary. Take the very name “human rights commission.” How could you possibly argue against something so saintly? And me? I was accused of “hate speech.” Who could possibly support me?

Time to turn that around. I was actually the defender of human rights — freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, property rights. The HRCs were violating my rights. I wasn’t a hater; I was merely publishing the news. But, as it turns out, many staffers of HRCs are so radical, their own politics can reasonably be called hate. Etc. My point is: I decided not to let the other side have all the good words. That’s a story about political correctness. But it’s about something much deeper than that; it goes back to George Orwell’s Newspeak and 1984. I wasn’t about to let some petty fascists tell me I was abnormal. They were. And it was my goal to prove it.

BC: Yes, language is essential and conservatives often seem to be on the losing side. You refused to play the game, but how easily can conservatives emulate your strategy with language in general?

Ezra Levant: We are so conditioned to using the language that the other side invents for us that we often don’t even realize it. I think the key is to be accurate, but to choose the accurate word that is the most helpful. For example, I call myself a “human rights activist” now because I think it’s accurate. I try not to call the law the “hate speech law”; I try to remember to call it the “censorship law.” It’s not rocket science — although there are some people, like Frank Luntz, who have built it into a science or an art.

Some words out there are just dying to be replaced — “community organizer,” “stimulus,” etc.

BC: Is there something unique to leftists that makes them long to destroy their political enemies? You labeled the commissions “kangaroo courts” and your enemies tried to have you disbarred for using such an accurate phrase. Why does the left seek to liquidate foes rather than simply respond to positions?

Ezra Levant: I think your observation is generally correct. I think it’s in the nature of Leninism that the ends justify the means. I mean, as I document in the book, the Canadian Human Rights Commission is Canada’s largest disseminator of neo-Nazi hate speech on the Internet — their staff publishes hundreds (perhaps thousands) of bigoted comments about Jews, blacks, gays, etc., all in the name of smoking out the “real” haters. I know that sounds nuts, but they’ve justified their own bizarre, racist behavior as being a necessary evil. I’m not saying the right is immune to that, but it seems more prevalent on the left.

When I refused to go quietly, as most HRC victims do — and when I actually started to win, at least in the court of public opinion — the HRC industry decided to personally destroy me. They piled on with a total of three HRC complaints, four defamation suits, and close to 20 law society complaints. They’re all baseless — I’ve won the first six and should win them all — but the hassle and cost of their nuisance suits are clearly designed to take up my time and money and demoralize me. I like to joke that I’m a slightly huskier Erin Brockovich.

BC: You toyed with the idea of conservatives issuing 100,000 requests for HRC hearings as a way to ridicule and disable the system. You ultimately rejected this alternative, but doesn’t your rejection illustrate that an important difference between the left and the right is that conservatives are not the kind to run to mommy (the state) whenever they have a grievance?

Ezra Levant: If I really thought that sending 100,000 junk complaints to the HRCs would cause them to grind to a halt, I might consider it. But the likelier result would be a somber declaration that there was so much more “hate” out there, the HRCs needed bigger budgets, more staff, and more power! More to the point, either censorship is right or it’s wrong. If it’s wrong, then we shouldn’t validate an immoral law by using it. Freedom of speech is one of those strange things that, in order to enjoy it yourself, you must give it to your enemies.

BC: Government constantly seeks to increase its size, breadth, and power. Was it not the need for control that drove one of the commissions (the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission) to distribute 60,000 pamphlets to persons who recently immigrated to Canada? Did they wish to indoctrinate new arrivals on the ways of the sensitivity state?

Ezra Levant: Absolutely. The province of Alberta has a growing population, but the number of complaints fell by 15% in a year. Now, to normal people, that’s great news — a sign that we’re getting along. To the HRC, it’s terrible — a sign that we’re getting along. So they needed to stir up disharmony, to generate some complaints to justify their budgets and staff. So they sent a “how to complain” handbook to every adult immigrant in the province, to use as an English textbook. It was disgusting.

BC: Ezra, here in this country, we think of Canadians as being hardy, rustic, and good. What the heck happened to our neighbors over the last 40 years? Why is political correctness worse there than it is here?

Ezra Levant: Your First Amendment is the main answer. Were it not for that, I’m sure you’d have HRCs by now. And, the ACLU — despite its many flaws — is quick, forceful, and noisy in defense of “offensive” speech. We don’t have the same level of public interest law firms defending free speech up here. Finally: don’t get too smug. Many of your university campuses have strict “speech codes.” Some of your cities actually have hodgepodge HRCs. (Philadelphia’s HRC put Geno’s Steaks on trial for a sign telling customers to order their cheesesteaks in English.) And then there’s the biggest HRC of them all: the United Nations, which just passed a resolution calling on member states to criminalize “defamation of Islam.”

BC: You’re right, but last year you mentioned that your trial got more coverage in the United States than in Canada. Has that changed in 2009? Is the Canadian media gradually wising up?

Ezra Levant: With the publication of my book, Shakedown, the dam finally broke and Canadian media of all stripes have paid close attention to this problem. From the very beginning, talk radio in Canada was very supportive and some key newspaper columnists were strong. But I think Americans picked up this issue faster and more vigorously than Canadians. I did two appearances on Glenn Beck’s show before I was invited to a Canadian TV show of similar stature.

BC: Are jokes illegal nowadays in Canada? Your section discussing comedian Guy Earle and the way he was ambushed by the HRC is frightening. Have the flying tribunals become your “official joke testers” today?

Ezra Levant: Comedy is, by nature, subversive. It’s a safety valve for controversial subjects. It allows us to blow off steam in politically incorrect ways. No wonder humor was so circumscribed in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia. (Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to eight years in the gulag for calling Stalin “the whiskered one” in a private letter.)

In Canada, jokes that violate the counterfeit “human right not to be offended” are illegal.

BC: Is there any hope that, as a result of all the negative publicity, the Canadian government will end this HRC reign of terror and error? That Stephen Harper addressed the injustice gives you hope no doubt.

Ezra Levant: I am very hopeful that there will be reforms. Remember, there are 14 of these HRCs in Canada and any province or territory can make reforms — not just the federal HRC. The prime minister is hampered by having only a minority government, so he is probably just picking his battles more carefully. But, for example, the Conservative Party of Ontario is having a leadership race right now — you’d call it a party primary — and the central issue in the campaign is what to do with HRCs.

BC: Thanks so much for your time, Mr. Levant.