Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Right to Offend — The Case of Ezra Levant

The review of Ezra Levant's new book, Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights, in last Saturday's Globe and Mail was far and away the best piece in Toronto newspapers this weekend.

A quick recap for those not familiar with Ezra Levant and his fight for freedom of the press when he was publisher of the now defunct Western Standard magazine:

A few years ago, when the controversy over Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed was reaching its' peak, Levant made an editorial decision to publish the cartoons in his magazine. These are the cartoons, keep in mind, that sparked riots in other countries and earned death threats for the cartoonists who drew them. Following the publication of the cartoons in Levant's magazine, a Calgary Imam tried to have Levant arrested because said Imam took offense to the cartoons. Imagine, thinking you can have a person arrested because something they've done has offended you.

When that didn't work, the Imam filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. According to the book's review, written by the CBC's Rex Murphy, being the target of a human rights tribunal in Canada is, "very costly." Murphy's review says Levant's case has so far cost Levant $100,000. As you read this, keep in mind the Imam who filed the complaint (and later withdrew it) never paid a penny in legal fees.

Murphy writes:

"Now, some people do not like Levant's style. They say he is too aggressive, too noisy and assertive, that he courts controversy and publicity. They should read Shakedown, and they will quickly realize that anyone less "aggressive" or "noisy" would have long ago been suffocated by the remorseless, inequitable, taxpayer-funded, bureaucratic grinding of Canada's human rights tribunals and commissions."

For my part, I would certainly like an explanation of the reasons why a magazine publisher is required to defend himself at a human rights tribunal just because a series of cartoons published in his magazine have offended someone. People offend each other all the time, but you don't see Ms. Jones hauling her neighbour before a human rights committee just because he's told Ms. Jones to fuck off, or given her dog the finger.

Again, from Murphy's review of Levant's book:

Ezra Levant, for my taste, could be the love child (ideologically speaking) of Noam Chomsky and Ontario human-rights impresario Barbara Hall, but his indictment of the procedures, practices and ideology of Canada's human rights commissions, their Orwellian character, shameless amateurism and overweening reach is simply right. He has their number. He has experienced their practice. He has documented their absurdities and pettiness. And he has — with courage and no little cost — stood up to them in a manner so straightforward and clear that he is positively un-Canadian."

I especially enjoy the last line of this paragraph where Murphy suggests that Levant's conduct is 'un-Canadian.' The stereotypical Canadian being polite, reserved and clearly (from my experience) obedient and passive in the face of authority and power. Good for Levant that he stands up for himself and refuses to take such absurd persecution lying down.

You can read The Globe and Mail's full review of Shakedown here.

I find myself in complete agreement with Rex Murphy's take on the state of political correctness in Canada. Too often I hear the words 'appropriate' and 'inappropriate.' These words make me cringe because of the implied assumption of mass consent they carry. Fact is, there's no such thing as mass consent in 2009, especially not in Toronto. which is home to people of all races, socio-economic statuses and sexual orientations.

Levant's ordeal with the human rights watchdogs of Alberta should be a cautionary tale for anyone in the public eye whose actions or words could make them the target of a human rights complaint. Be careful what you say, you just might get taken to court for it.

So far, Levant's case has been ignored by leaders of all the federal political parties. Even Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is mute on the issue. Which is surprising considering that Levant is a conservative himself, a former Member of Parliament, and he worked for the Conservative Party in the last federal election. You would think Harper wouldn't mind doing Levant a favour by standing up for him.

It seems that members of Canada's political elite have little interest in defending freedom of the press and freedom of speech these days.

A country where people constantly worry about being reprimanded or taken before a tribunal for offensive behaviour (and everyone has different standards as to what they consider offensive) encourages a culture of self-censorship. But maybe that's the price Canadians are willing to pay to ensure everyone behaves 'appropriately.'

A built-in Big Brother; how convenient.

No comments:

Post a Comment