Levant rages against the HRC machine, posts video to the internet for posterity
A long and sad chapter of the varying controversies surrounding Canada's Human Rights Commissions took an interesting twist today, as Ezra Levant, subject of a complaint by the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada and Syed Soharwardy, posted video of his hearings to YouTube.
Through the course of the videos, a hapless Human Rights Commissioner is subjected to a stern lecture on the nature of freedom of speech and the various failings of Canadas HRCs.
In his opening statement, Levant voiced the full measure of his distaste for the HRC.
"When the Western Standard magazine published the Danish cartoons of Muhammad two years ago, I was the publisher. It was the proudest moment of my public life," Levant announced. "I would do it again today. In fact, I did do it again today. Although the Western Standard sadly no longer publishes a print edition, I posted the cartoons this morning on my website, EzraLevant.com."
"I am here at this interrogation under protest. It is my position the government has no legal or moral authority to interrogate me or anyone else for publishing these words and pictures. That is a violaton of my ancient and inalienable freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of the press and in this case, religious freedom and seperation of Mosque and state. It is especially perverted that a bureaucracy calling itself the Alberta Human Rights Commission is the agency violating my rights."
Levant went on to outline the origial purpose of the HRC, and how these Commissions have been subverted by special interests.
During the statement (at one point of which he stops to thank all of his supporters who read The Western Standard), Levant rages against the HRC Commissioner who alternates between shuffling uncomfrotably and shuffling angrily in her chair.
Levant certainly hadn't come to make any friends.
"We published those cartoons for the intention and purpose of exercising our inalienable rights as free-born Albertans to publish whatever the hell we want no matter what the hell you think," Ezra insists. "It's my right to do so for reasonable intentions and its my right to do so for extremely unreasonable purposes. I refuse to concede to you that what my political thoughts are in my mind and in my heart are will determine whether or not an artifact is legal or illegal."
Of course, Levant is right about this last part. The cartoons in question were part of the story the Western Standard was commenting on -- the rioting of Muslims over the cartoons published in a Danish newspaper. Levant and the Standard had every right to do cover that story, and bore no responsibility to cover any part of it up.
At points, however, Levant veers strongly into the perversity of unrestrained freedom, particularly when that freedom is unrestrained even by the better natures of the person exercising them.
"I published it without reservation. I published it in the most unreasonable manner," Ezra insisted. "Whatever offends you, I reserve the right to publish it for whatever offensive reason I want."
"I reserve the right to publish those cartoons for exactly what they complain about. I reserve the right to publish the cartoons to do every offensive thing they claim is in my heart."
At its most base level, Levant is right. But those offended by him also have the right to censure him, and to seek censure from other sources. While they are absolutely abusing the system in attempting to use the HRC to do this using the strong arm of the law, Syed Soharwardy has every right to be offended, and has every right to protest.
In part three, however, Levant really turns up the heat:
When asked about claims that publishing the cartoons inspired hatred and hostility toward Muslims and put them at risk, Levant draws blood for the first time when he notes that nowhere in Canada has a conclusive hate crime been committed against Muslims.
However, he notes that hate crimes have been perpetrated in Canada by Muslims against other identifiable minorities.
In particular, he notes the firebombing of Edmonton's Beth Shalom synagogue
"This dumb, radical, fascist, Muslim, arab from Jordan firebombed my synogogue in Edmonton. So when Larry Shayman cries wolf he's just a fibber. He's crying wolf. The last house of worship torched in Edmonton was my synagogue. It's not these cartoons that create hatred. It's radical muslims who blow things up. Who torched my synogogue. Who file nuisance suits. They're the ones who make people hate Islam."
"When these radicals start trying to import their values whether its violence, or honour killings like Asqua Parvez or torching synogogues like the Beth Shalom that make people say 'I hate you'."
The complaints of imminent threat directed toward Muslims and other minorities tend to fall flat when that violence so often fails to materialize.
Then again, when one ignores incitory factors until such violence manifests itself, one begins to fall under an immense moral hazard. Such violence could be prevented, if only those inciting it could be stopped. However, this is a very thin line to walk: perhaps one that HRCs have proven themselves unable to walk.
When asked about Charter limits on freedom of speech, Levant once again unloads:
"I do not believe their should be any limits whatsoever on political or religious speech that doesn't fall into the categories of incitement to riot or conspiracy to cummit murder," he insists. "It is the bedrock of our western liberal society, that unreasonable speech should be permitted. In fact, unreasonable speech is the only reason we've ever had progress. People who offend the order, whether it's women offending the patriarchy to get the right to vote for suffragists. Whether it's Martin Luther King offending white society for black equality. Whether it's homosexuals who offend norms in order to get equal rights. No liberal progressive cause has ever advanced except for through offending the order. And many of those offences used quite rude language, or at least language that was regarded as quite rude in the day."
Of course, comparing himself to Martin Luther King or Nellie McClung may not seem quite as accurate as Levant would like to think, even if he considers it personally flattering.
Mostly because King, McClung and their historical compatriots (to whom Levant alludes) all fought for justice not merely for themselves, but for entire groups of people.
Levant's fight is almost entirely for himself. He wasn't protesting a great historical injustice when he published the cartoons in question, he was essentially -- whether rightly or wrongly -- accusing an entire culture of barbarism.
Yet Levant makes a very strong point when he notes the absurdity of ordering apologies.
"For them to want the state to compel me to utter words I don't believe is Orwell at its apex. For me to say words I don't mean. Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, the most heinous criminals in this country, convicted of mass murder, the state cannot order them to apologize. It's cruel and unusual punishment. More to the point, people know they wouldn't mean it. What's the use of an apology if they wouldn't mean it? A convicted murder cannot be ordered to apologize, but a convicted publisher can be ordered by the state to apologize."
"I'll rot in hell before I use my mouth to say those fascist words with [the commission] as an instrument to compel me."
Levant's lecture on freedom of speech, however, misses an important element: that of responsibility.
Levant does, indeed, have the right to say what he wants. However, he is also responsible for what he says, and what he publishes. While in this particular matter he was actually acting entirely responsibly, there is no guarantee that he can say or publish whatever he wants in future without facing any kind of consequence.
Unfortunately for Levant, one of the reasons he can't esscape responsibility for his comments is because of his own success. He has managed to earn for himself a position in the public discourse where he is well known and (by some) respected. When Ezra Levant says something, many people listen. A few people even reach for their phones and dial up the HRC.
Another reason why Levant cannot escape responsibility for his comments is because he possesses the courage to allow his comments to be identified with his own name. Particularly on the internet, there are some cowards who will spurn responsibility for their comments simply because they lack the courage to accept responsibility.
Hopefully, Levant's appearance before the AHRC will bring this sad, sad chapter of the abuse of Canada's HRCs to a close. Perhaps it will even provide the impetus for those with the power to do so (are you listening Stephen Harper? Ed Stelmach?) to fix the problems with Canada's Human Rights Commissions once and for all.
Not by abolishing them, as some self-interested individuals would insist, but by reforming them to operate like a real court of law, rule of evidence and all.
In the meantime, Levant actually has every right and reason to be angry.