Ezra Levant is off the hook and he isn’t happy about it.
Two years ago, his now-defunct Western Standard magazine — a rare conservative voice in liberal Canada — became one of the few publications to dare reprint the notorious Danish cartoons of Mohammed.
The magazine was headquartered in the province of Alberta, leading two different local Muslim groups to file complaints against Levant with the Alberta Human Rights Commission (AHRC). Established in the 1970s to hear discrimination complaints in the areas of housing and employment, Canada’s HRCs slowly morphed into a combination censor board/secret police, “investigating” so-called “hate sites” on the web, fining Christian organizations and individuals found guilty of “offending” gay activists, and charging Canada’s oldest magazine, and its columnist Mark Steyn, with “flagrant Islamophobia.”
Levant was interrogated by a government bureaucrat this past January — an interrogation he videotaped and posted on YouTube. Levant’s mocking, impassioned performance, which challenged the HRC’s very legitimacy, was viewed hundreds of thousands of times, made Levant an overnight free speech hero, and ignited a national debate about Canada’s beloved policy of multiculturalism.
Levant blogged earlier this week, “Using government lawyers and taxpayers’ money, they have been pursuing me, infringing on my natural rights of free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. According to Access to Information documents, there are 15 bureaucrats working on my file. I’m a major crime scene.”
His legal bills topped $100,000, and he estimates the cases have cost Alberta taxpayers $500,000.
Then, for reasons that remain unclear, one Muslim group — the Supreme Islamic Council run by Imam Syed Soharwardy — suddenly dropped its complaint against Ezra Levant in February.
Finally, on August 6, the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities complaint was dismissed by the Alberta HRC. Levant had “won” what he’d taken to calling “the first blasphemy case in Canada in 80 years.”
The accused’s response wasn’t one of jubilation.
Anyone who finds this surprising hasn’t been following the case on the blogosphere and certainly doesn’t know Ezra Levant the way many Canadians do. The brash, outspoken Levant is a principled provocateur whose values — liberty, small government, individuality, the free market — are considered “too American” by the nation’s liberal elite. (His friend of ten years, leftist comedian Rick Mercer, has called him — not unaffectionately — “without a doubt, one of the most aggravating men on this earth.”)
Sure enough, Levant quickly condemned the AHRC’s decision and the entire Kafkaesque process in his trademark style:
The 11-page government report into my activities is a breathtakingly arrogant document. In it, Pardeep Gundara, a low-level bureaucrat, assumes the role of editor-in-chief for the entire province of Alberta. He went through our magazine article and gave his own thoughts on the cartoons, and pronounced on our magazine’s decision to publish them. The government’s wannabe journalist makes a spelling error, he gets facts wrong, and he’s obviously not good with deadlines. We’d never have hired him at our magazine. But the laugh is on us — he’s apparently our boss, and the boss of all journalists in Alberta.
That is not acceptable to me. I am not interested in Gundara’s views about the cartoons. I’m not interested in learning his personal rules of thumb for when I can or can’t express myself. This is Canada, not Saudi Arabia.
When Soharwardy dropped his complaint, Levant, a practicing defamation lawyer, had publicly mused about suing the imam in civil court to recoup his legal costs. (HRC complainants have their legal fees paid by the state.)
But now Levant tells Pajamas Media, “My lawyers say there is no redress allowed in terms of suing my HRC antagonists — the statute forbids it. I may have that option in some of the 17 other legal assaults I’m facing.”
Yes, 17. Soharwardy has filed a complaint against Levant with the Alberta Law Society. So have lawyers with ties to the Human Rights Commissions. Levant, along with a number of other Canadian conservative bloggers, is also being sued for libel by one of those individuals — a former HRC employee whose investigative techniques they’ve questioned on their sites. (Full disclosure: I am one of the bloggers named in that suit.)
So what happens now?
Levant has become Canada’s unofficial spokesman on the issue of “soft jihad” and lawfare, addressing conferences and testifying before a U.S. Congressional task force. His book about his travails and about freedom of speech at home and abroad is due out from a prestigious Canadian publisher this fall.
He’s adopted other people’s human rights cases as his own: those of Rev. Stephen Boisson (banned for life from quoting certain Bible verses) and Guy Earle (a stand-up comic charged with “homophobia” by a lesbian heckler).
Levant continues to be “the monkey in the wrench” of Canada’s “human rights” establishment, accusing those he calls “Jews for a living” of persecuting gormless “neo-Nazi” cranks instead of radical Muslims — of “avenging the last Holocaust, instead of preventing the next one.”
He tells Pajamas Media: “I’ve got a bunch of Access to Information requests in to the Alberta HRC. They’ve given me 200 pages, but are refusing to hand over hundreds more — including any emails about me and some investigator’s notes.”
The case that made him famous is officially over, but for Ezra Levant, the fight is just beginning.