One of my old classmates Ezra Levant has landed himself in a very interesting situation. As publisher of the 'Western Standard' (a conservative magazine of uneven quality based on the old 'Alberta Report' format and subscription list) Ezra took it upon himself to publish the so called 'Danish cartoons' - a set of deliberately provocative and offensive cartoons aimed at the Muslim faith.
Now, the political reasons he had for doing so, are I think, dubious at best. My own suspicion is that he published them in a cynical opportunity to grandstand (and if you know Ezra at all you know that this is certainly a part of his character he has never even attempted to repress), but it should be noted that fomenting anti-Islamic sentiment was not beneath his magazines purview (by publishing the loopy, odious and shrill Mark Steyn for example), and certainly not beneath that of his more reactionary readership.
But whether he published the cartoons for the opportunity to publicly play martyr to the cause, or out of a pathological hatred for Muslims, makes no difference to me (and as I say, knowing Ezra I strongly suspect the former over the latter).
However, it apparently makes a difference to the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
Voltaire once said that if God did not exist we would have to invent Him.
If there is a more perfect enemy for Ezra than the AHRC I cannot imagine one. If not for the costliness of defending himself in the process (though I suspect Ezra is doing just fine financially that should be beside the point), I'm sure Ezra might have looked for some way to deliberately pick a fight with them anyway. They represent everything he can't stand; a self-important busy body bureaucracy, unrestrained nanny-statism, a leftist ideology that privileges the complainant over the defendant, a lack of accountability, and a decision making process that is both arcane and hostile.
I'm sure if you raised 100 different political issues Ezra and I would disagree (probably vehemently) over more than 90%. He's the definition of social conservative (once being the communications director for Stockwell Day) and I'm a middle of the road libertarian with no fixed ideology. We are not intellectual bedmates by any stretch, but I can certainly agree that everything about this tribunal he faces is wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.
Ezra as either a publisher or a person simply must have the right to free speech and to freedom of the press. It is not a matter of whether or not we like what he says. It is not a matter of whether we find his perspective offensive, and it is not a matter of whether we think he earned some sort of backlash for insensitivity (or open hostility). The simple facts are that the AHRC is an out of control organization that has morphed far beyond it's dubious initial founding to declare itself an arbiter of what can and cannot be said or published.
"It is procedurally unfair. Unlike real courts, there is no way to apply for a dismissal of nuisance lawsuits. Common law rules of evidence don’t apply. Rules of court don’t apply. It is a system that is part Kafka, and part Stalin. Even this interrogation today – at which I appear under duress – saw the commission tell me who I could or could not bring with me as my counsel and advisors." - Ezra Levant
It's clear to me that the AHRC deserves a smackdown.
The good news is that Ezra is well primed to deliver it to them.
You can see clips of Ezra's interrogation/deposition here.
You can see the cartoons in question posted on his blog here.
And you can read a copy of Ezra's opening remarks to the commission here.
Update: one of my favourite blogs 'Dispatches from the Culture Wars' is also covering the issue.
Update 2: two others I love, Andrew Sullivan (though his isn't long) and Glenn Greewald have also got stuff on Ezra's plight. Congrats Ezra, you've managed to get both the gay American right and left behind you! How often can he say that?
Update 3: Ezra himself has added his commentary on his closing arguments to his blog. Here's an excerpt;
"As the 90-minute interrogation proceeded, it became obvious to me that it would be morally inconsistent to end by asking for an acquittal, or any other "mercy" from the government. The logical conclusion of denying the legitimacy of the commission was to demand its worst. The point of civil disobedience is not to get off scot-free, but to willingly accept the punishments of an unjust system, to shame that system into reform." - Ezra Levant
Like I said, Ezra would have picked this fight if they hadn't picked it with him. Here's a link to a clip of his 'interrogation'.
In truth I strongly suspect Ezra will lose (he's certainly not trying very hard to ingratiate himself - quite the opposite), but Ezra is a creature of attention (at University he sold T-shirts with a caricature of himself along with a phone number - no shrinking violet he, nor does he lack for self regard) and as someone who lives to play for the audience the AHRC is actually playing into his hands.
So what is his end-game? Can he sue the AHRC for violating his freedoms? (the irony is almost toxic) Is there a political solution from his well connected Tory buddies he is angling for? Or has the publicity been it's own reward?
Update 4: Warren Kinsella adds fuel to the charges of hypocrisy here.
"The fraud, in this case, is my friend Ezra Levant. He is full of crap, actually.
When it has suited him in the past – and when the verbal attacks have focused on him, say, and not a non-white family, or a Muslim kid, or a gay man – Ezra has launched a fullisade of legal actions. He has papered the courts with legal actions, and legal threats, which presumably leave the intended targets feeling that their freedom of speech is being limited. When it is his feelings being hurt, watch out; anyone else’s – too bad." Warren Kinsella
Ouch! The thing is I think Kinsella is absolutely right, Ezra is a total hypocrite and if events in the past are any indication he would be the first to fling lawsuits around if the cartoon were about him, and if it were his feelings that were hurt.
But that isn't really the point - the point is that in this case, Ezra happens to be right. The AHRC is out of line. The process is brutal, unfair, and illegitimate, and the ability for the AHRC to strangle free-speech by allowing these frivolous suits is utterly repugnant.
I can understand the schadenfreude of others in the blogosphere regarding Ezra's plight, but the fact is he shouldn't be faced with this type of inquisition at all. Nobody should.