In this most excellent article below the author didn’t mention perhaps the most bizarre HRC decision, that to find a plastic surgeon guilty of discrimination for refusing to perform a labiaplasty on a man.
It’s hard to describe Ezra Levant’s splendid new volume, Shakedown: How Our Government Is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights, as an enjoyable read — because the book is a chronicle of injustice, with outrage on every page.
On opening this slim volume, I was transported to early last year, when I first heard that Levant — formerly the publisher of the Canadian conservative magazine The Western Standard — was being hauled before the Alberta Human Rights Commission for having the temerity to publish something a radical imam didn’t approve of.
As I began to read the facts of Levant’s case, I came to the sad realization that Canada no longer has freedom of speech. The “human rights” commissions (HRCs) all over Canada, staffed by bureaucrats and not following normal legal procedures, had originally been set up to deal with blatant cases of discrimination; they had morphed into star chambers weighing in on what the press could print, what pastors could say from the pulpit, whether certain Bible verses could be displayed publicly, and so on.
Later in the year, when National Review’s own Mark Steyn was ensnared by both Canada’s national and the British Columbia HRC for an article he published, I ended up covering Steyn’s case, as well as Canada’s kangaroo courts more broadly. (Steyn has written a foreword to Shakedown.) Every rock I turned over revealed the HRCs to be even more pernicious then they appeared, and they looked Orwellian to begin with. These commissions have the power to impose financial and legal penalties, and yet they don’t adhere to the most basic protections of due process found in a real court of law.
And it was worse, even, than that: the state paid for the prosecution, while the defendant incurred any and all legal fees, which could run to thousands of dollars. Even if you were eventually declared innocent of the charges against you, you would not be reimbursed — the process itself is in effect a penalty. Levant and Steyn probably weren’t terribly heartened by the fact that no one charged under Canada’s Section 13 “hate speech” provisions had ever been found innocent by a Canadian HRC. That’s right — a 100 percent conviction rate. Kim Jong-il and Robert Mugabe are no doubt envious.
But if my first reaction was horror at what had become of a free Canada, my second was to chuckle softly at what the Canadian government had brought upon itself by putting Steyn and Levant in the dock. Mr. Steyn’s devastating pen straddles continents; whatever punishments the HRCs could heap on him would end up largely irrelevant, given his reach.
Outside of Canada, Levant is less well-known. However, there was little doubt in my mind that he too would prove to be a freedom fighter of the highest order. Some years ago, I attended a three-day academic seminar with Levant. While I’ve had no social contact with him before or since, I can tell you that participating in an academic discussion with Levant is like trying to share a steak with a pit bull. He’s never uncivil or unreasonable — just a lawyer with a killer instinct for finding flaws in arguments. If anyone had asked me if I had any advice for the “human rights” commissioners attempting to prosecute Levant, it would have been, “Duck!”
So when Levant was hauled before the Alberta HRC for his decision to publish the infamous Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, he did not disappoint. For one thing, Levant took a video camera to the proceedings, and his opening statement was viewed on the Internet over 500,000 times. The video was remarkable both for Levant’s eloquent indignation and for the eye-rolling indifference of the “human rights” commissioner across the table, unaware that for half a million people she would soon become the face of censorship and oppression in Canada. The charges against Levant were dropped — most likely not because the Alberta HRC wanted to do the right thing, but because it was seeking to spare itself further embarrassment.
All these developments are explored in detail in Shakedown, but the book is much more than simply a recounting of the injustices suffered by Steyn and Levant. The author has a higher purpose — he has written a simple and effectively argued wake-up call for the average Canadian citizen.
As Steyn notes in the introduction, “[Levant] understood that, like the undead feasting on human flesh in the dead of night but unable to bear a shaft of sunlight, Canada’s ‘human rights’ racket could not withstand the glare of publicity. In a free society, justice must not only be done but seem to be done.”
Thus Levant does his level best not to revel in his own indignation, but to chronicle the myriad injustices suffered by those who have not had the means to fight back the way Levant and Steyn did. We learn how a restaurant was punished for firing a cook with Hepatitis C; how an HRC held a trial over the complaint filed by a male hairstylist that some women at his salon school called him a loser; how a rape-crisis center was sued for not wanting a burly male-to-female transsexual as a rape-victim counselor; how a nightclub was sued for allegedly denying entry to a Sikh university student some four years earlier — and on and on.
Levant also exposes the commissions’ inner workings. As it turns out, the chief investigator of the national HRC is a former police officer who was fired for knowingly dating a criminal that her colleagues had under active investigation. The same investigator is notorious for launching a 15-month-long taxpayer-funded investigation into a small Toronto publication called Catholic Insighton the basis of its stated opposition to gay marriage.
Then there’s the matter of Richard Warman, an Ottawa lawyer who worked for the Canadian Human Rights Commission for two years — at the same time as he was filing numerous complaints with that body under his own name. Warman is also notorious, for trolling message boards on the Internet, posting offensive material he himself has written and then suing anyone who responds in agreement. Given the 100 percent conviction rate, to date Warman has been awarded $50,000 by the HRCs.
As I said, there’s outrage on every page; but Levant’s purpose is to translate outrage into action: His concluding chapter is titled “How Ordinary Canadians Can Fight Back.” I hope the book’s understandable focus on Canada doesn’t discourage Americans from reading it. If you think it can’t happen in America, guess again. State human-rights commissions are fast gaining ground here. Among a number of disturbing developments, last year a New Mexico wedding photographer and evangelical Christian was fined $6,637 by her state’s Human Rights Commission for turning down the opportunity to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony. Elsewhere, the United Nations Human Rights Council recently approved a resolution that calls on nation-states to limit criticism of religions in general and Islam in particular; this could have draconian effects on free speech.
It would seem that we’re all Canadians now. And if we care about our freedom of expression, we had better start fighting back. Levant’s book should prove to be an invaluable resource for that battle.
— Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.