Defenders of freedom of speech may want to mark January 11, 2008 on their calendars, for it was on that date that Ezra Levant, publisher of the Western Standard magazine, answered a complaint before a quasi-legal Canadian authority, the Alberta Human Rights commission, concerning cartoons he had published that originally appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. The cartoons represented the prophet Mohammed, some in an unflattering light, and at the time, to put it mildly, they created quite a stir in the Islamic world.
Before the Alberta Human Rights Commission, Levant declared that the re-publication of the cartoons in the Western Standard was “the proudest moment of my public life.” He said, “I would do it again today. In fact, I did do it again today. Though the Western Standard, sadly, no longer publishes a print edition, I posted the cartoons this morning on my website.”
Not everyone, of course, felt similarly. The original cartoons inspired attacks on the Norwegian and Danish Embassies in Syria, which were set on fire, the storming of European buildings and the desecration of Danish, Norwegian and German flags in Gaza. Threats from anti-Catholic islamic bigots were made upon nuns in Gaza whose connection with the cartoons remains obscure.
Levant said he was brought before the Alberta Commission on Human Rights on a complaint issued by “a radical Muslim imam, who was trained at an officially anti-Semitic university in Saudi Arabia, and who has called for Sharia law to govern Canada.”
Levant's defense was, quite simply, that in demanding from him testimony that may be used to deprive him of his imprescriptible constitutional and natural rights, the Alberta Human Rights Commission was violating the 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 250 years of common law in Canada and ancient precedent setting charters such as the Magna Carta.
Levant was not content to protest mildly this assault on hard won freedoms; he attacked the Alberta Human Rights commission in tones that recall prior historic defenses of liberty such as Milton’s Areopogitica, John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty," and Sam Adam’s boastful brag that I have proudly plastered on the top of this site.
There are clips of Levant’s interrogation floating around on the internet, most of which may be found on the site of a courageous moderate Muslim group, Muslims Against Sharia. Apart from the first clip, a prepared statement read by Levant, all the clips represent his spontaneous response to the indignity visited upon him by the Alberta Human Rights Commission, and they are, collectively, an eloquent defense of the ancient and primary postulates of our liberties as free men living under a constitutional government, the sort of spirited defense that would have set old Sam Adam’s soul on fire.
“I am here,” Levant said in his opening statement, “at this government interrogation under protest. It is my position that the government has no legal or moral authority to interrogate me or anyone else for publishing these words and pictures. That is a violation of my ancient and inalienable freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and in this case, religious freedom and the separation of mosque and state. It is especially perverted that a bureaucracy calling itself the Alberta human rights commission would be the government agency violating my human rights. So I will now call those bureaucrats “the commission” or “the hrc”, since to call the commission a “human rights commission” is to destroy the meaning of those words.”
From here on, the way pointed downward for the Alberta Human Rights Commission, whose representative at the table, officer McGovern, a bored, non-committal clerk jotting notes from time to time on a legal pad, was the very picture of Hanna Arendt’s “banality of evil.” Levant continually attempted, and failed, to provoke a response from her. Her indifference was unshatterable.
In such procedures, when the state is a party to deliberations, the accused always becomes a victim.
“Alberta taxpayers,” Levant told the harassing clerk, “pay for the prosecution of the complaint against me. The victims of the complaints, like the Western Standard, have to pay for their own lawyers from their own pockets. Even if we win, we lose – the process has become the punishment. (At this point, I’d like to thank the magazine’s many donors who have given their own money to help us fight against the Saudi imam and his enablers in the Alberta government.)
“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.”
It is at the same time a cause for celebration and despair that somewhere the Western culture still produces a man like Levant willing to risk all in a splendid act of defiance to assert his ancient liberties before the same emasculated West that is unwilling to defend them.