Canada is Free and Freedom is Its Nationality

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Event Blogging: Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn before a Parliamentary Committee

House of Commons
Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights
Review of the Canadian Human Rights Act (Section 13)

PLEASE NOTE: This is not a transcript but a summary of the events and speeches in my own words. I wrote it in the first person so that it would flow better but it it a summary, not the speaker's exact words, or even very close to their exact words.

The meeting took place in a rather large room with plenty of seating for the 40 observers and media people who showed up. The committee was seated in a hollow square under "The Fathers of the Confederation". Steyn and Levant sat with their backs to the audience.

Levant began with a ten minute presentation.

He began by thanking the committee and noting with pleasure that it was a bi-partisan one, because freedom of speech and checks and balances in justice are certainly bipartisan concerns.

Last month Athanasios Hadjis of the CHRT ruled that Section 13 of the Human Rights Act was unconstitutional and that the CHRC was "aggressive and confrontational". In a March ruling by another Tribunal member, the Commission's actions were called "disturbing and disappointing". These members, both Conservatives and Liberals, agree that the HRC is abusive and that they will not convict people charged under Section 13.

Before we go farther into talking about what the CHRC does we should cover what it doesn't do. It doesn't help minorities, gays, or Jews.

In the last decade almost all of the Section 13 complaints have been brought by one person, a privileged white lawyer named Richard Warman. Warman worked for the CHRC and began filling complaints with the Commission while working there. This is an obvious conflict of interests. Not content with that, he also got all of his expenses paid by the Commission to testify at trials.

What of the CHRC conduct?

Warman, as it turns out, is a member of Neo-Nazi organizations. He logs into these websites and writes posts saying that gays are a cancer, Jews are scum, and that white police should be loyal to their race. However, shocking as this is, what is more shocking is that he is not alone in this conduct. At least 7 staff members at the CHRC are also members of Neo-Nazi organizations including Dean Steacy, Sandy Kozak, and others. Some of them even hacked into the account of a private citizen, Nellie Hachme, to cover their tracks. The RCMP considers the case unsolved, but the Commission is the only suspect.

The CHRC also lacks a written ethics code.

They hired Sandy Kozak after she was drummed out of the police force for corruption.

They "borrow" evidence from police lockers without a search warrant.

Steacy has defended their actions saying that they are not breaking any rules. There are no rules to break. Jennifer Lynch also defends the Commissions and attacks anyone who would speak against them.

Section 13 is illiberal and a threat to human rights. My hope is that this committee will be repulsed by what they have heard today.

Mark Steyn’s 10 minute presentation.

There is something wrong with Canada's conception of human rights. Until last month the Tribunal had a 100% conviction rate. Even show trials in oppressive regimes feel the need to let someone off every once in awhile to keep up appearances.

If you are convicted of a Section 13 crime you can be given a lifetime speech ban.

Section 13 tries people for pre-crimes not crimes.

Until Macleans and I intervened last year the Lemire case was going to be help in secret.

Section 13 is at odds with our legal inheritance dating back to the Magna Carta. It protects pseudo-human rights.

Ignatieff said that collective rights without individual rights ends in tyranny, you cannot make something that is merely desirable into a right, and that freedom of speech is the foundation of all rights.

There are 33 million people in Canada but only one uses Section 13. In England a man by the name of Matthew Hopkins named himself Witch-Finder General and went around collecting witches and turning them in for a pound a head. Richard Warman has now made himself Hate-Finder General of Canada.

The CHRC abuses the extremely narrow definition of Section 13 laid out in Taylor.

There would be no real change in Canada if Section 13 was abolished except that Richard Warman would have to witch-hunt on his own dime. Take Lemire for instance. He was convicted for writing an article that was read by a total of 8 people. In other words, if you factor out Warman and co, no one read it. It would be hard to find anything more unlikely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt. As a matter of fact, there would be less hate speech in Canada if the psychologically disturbed people at the CHRC did not write and publish it.

Sometimes organizations get so riddled with corruption that the only answer is to take away it's powers or disband it. The CHRC is now beyond saving.

A period of questions came next and here I must admit my debt to the Macleans liveblog for the committee member names. I couldn't see them from where I sat and wasn't going to guess at spelling. I also used the liveblog to double check a few facts and to help me figure out which of my scrawled notes had been said by whom.

Brian Murphy: (He talked for a long time but the substance of the questions were) Do you believe there are limits on free speech when it gets into the realm of extreme hate speech? Speech where people are depicted as having no redeeming qualities? Do you believe the Criminal Code laws are legitimate? They have higher standards. Are there any limits on freedom of speech?

Levant - Of course, fraud, forgery, copyright infringement, and death threats are examples of legitimate boundaries on freedom of speech. However in these speech is incidental - the crime is really something else like violence. Section 13, on the other hand, criminalizes thoughts and ideas.

It is also wrong to consider the HRT punishments as light ( A reference to a remark by Murphy that I didn't catch) and there are extreme differences between the procedures in the Tribunal and those in a criminal court.

Justice Dixon upheld Section 13 on the grounds that only evil ideas would be prosecuted. He did not envision today's situation where they are prosecuting political ideas, where there are punitive fines, and they use entrapment. We also have a greater respect for freedom of speech now than then.

Steyn - Dixon had a very narrow definition of Section 13. He didn't think that Macleans and other mainline news media would be prosecuted.

Yes words can be offensive, but repellent ideas need to be brought out into the sunlight where they will whither. This cannot be done in a regime of censorship.

Lynch says that she is committed to abolishing “hate“, but that is impossible because hate is part of what it means to be human. In fact Lynch may harbor a teensy weesny bit of hate for Levant and myself (laughter from audience).

Serge Menard - What are you asking for? You started by saying that 2 Tribunal members had declared the law unconstitutional, what tribunal are you talking about?

Levant - The Human Rights Tribunal

Menard - But only judges can declare laws unconstitutional.

Levant - They declared it was unconstitutional, they did not strike the law down.

Menard - They have no right to strike it down, only the Attorney General.

Are you saying that Section 13 is bad, or that there is a problem with individual people in the HRC? Are you implying that Section 13 is good but people who enforce it are bad?

Steyn - No, Section 13 is badly written. It says anything that is "likely" to expose someone to hatred. There is now a very broad definition of likely and it is being used and abused by ambitious employees of the HRC.

Levant - We should repeal Section 13, leave prosecutions to the Criminal Code, and bring in a Forensics team to evaluate the CHRC

Menard - Who should be the forensics team?

Levant - The Auditor General

Menard - Have you asked the Auditor General?

Levant - No but I will take your suggestion and do so immediately.

Menard - What are you asking us?

Levant - We have the material. The Auditor General can confirm it but it is for the people here to act.

Menard - You seem to be angry more at individuals.

Steyn - No we have a principled and philosophical objection to this. I even opposed Dixon. We knew that Section 13 was bad in theory, now we know that it is evil in practice.

Joe Comartin - Would you be willing to come back in the future to the Committee?

Levant - Yes and I can send documents if you want. When I first heard about what the CHRC was doing I was so shocked I didn't believe it. I thought it was some kind of conspiracy theory but it turned out to be true.

Steyn - Yes, and I share Ezra's concerns. I couldn't believe it when I got an email about the prospective secret trial. Secret trials have no place in this country, not over hate speech anyway.

Comartin - You would be satisfied to leave the Criminal Code laws? Would you be willing to have the government declare that such and such is hate speech but not make it a criminal offence? That you aren't allowed to say hate speech but it isn't a criminal offence?

Levant - I am Jewish but I would stand with the Berlin Jewish (Association?) in support of publishing Mein Kampf. If you try to ban something, you will only glamorize it.

The head of Egale said that there are three reasons to allow hate speech.

1. It lets you know who the bad guys are.
2. Hate speech allows for teachable moments.
3. Banning hate speech outsources personal responsibility to bureaucrats.

Comartin - These theories seem to make sense but Hitler rose to power even though his work was widely published.

Steyn - The problem with that is that Weimar Germany had it's own version of Section 13. The Nazi party was prosecuted 200 times for hate speech and Hitler wasn't even allowed to speak in public some places. This just glamorized them, what is it that is so dangerous that we are not even allowed to hear it?

I think if Hitler came back today he would laugh about anti-holocaust denial laws, because it would show that his ideas still had power.

Rob Moore - What do you think about Professor Moon's report?

Levant - Professor Moon was paid enormous amounts of money, over a thousand dollars a page, by the CHRC to write a report and he still called for the repeal of Section 13. Someone hand picked by the CHRC recognized that things were wrong, that should tell us something.

Steyn - Moon is certainly no friend of Levant and I but he still found Section 13 to be a bad law. It is completely unworkable in the internet age and can only be applied capriciously. Unless we want to regulate the internet the way China does.

Moore - How does the Criminal Code mesh with human rights law? What differences are their in HRT and Criminal trials.

Levant - There are so many differences. You have the right to a speedy trial, as opposed to my trial which lasted 900 days and never even came to a conviction. Another trial lasted for 6 years.

In some provincial commissions you can have warrantless search and seizure.

I focused on the procedural problems to appeal to anyone here who might be in favour of censorship, for I believe even they must be opposed to what is happening now.

There is no legal aid.

The disclosure practices would be laughed out of a real court.

We do not want to wait for 10 years while this makes it's way to the Supreme Court. Parliament should be the one to act.

Steyn - The biggest problem is that truth is no defence. I quoted an Imam, accurately, but I was prosecuted for doing so because it was offensive for me to quote him. This allows people to define their own reality.

Moore - What impact did this have on your financial status?

Levant - It cost me around $100,000. In a real court I would either have had legal aid or my costs reimbursed since I won. However besides that there is an issue of justice, Steyn and I won because we were articulate and we had money to pay for lawyers. Most other HRC targets don't. We do not believe that anyone should be above or below the law but that is what is happening.

Ujjal Dosanjh - Others see redeeming qualities in Section 13, do you?

Levant - No, and neither does Egale, PEN Canada, the CCLU, and every newspaper board in this country.

Dosanjh - Do you believe there should be anything between naked free speech and the Criminal Code?

Levant - No

Dosanjh - What about the school teacher who made all those anti-Semitic remarks, is that acceptable?

Levant - No it is not acceptable, but it should not be illegal either. I fear bureaucratic idiots misusing these laws more than I fear what he said.

Steyn - One problem with this is that there is no equality in the prosecutions. An Imam in Montreal said much worse things but he was not investigated.

Dosanjh - Was the firing appropriate?

Steyn - Yes the school board firing was appropriate as was parents refusing to allow their children in his class and other social answers. But he should not have been prosecuted by the government.

Marc LeMay - I am having trouble following, have you read the Taylor decision? Do you agree with it?

Levant - Disagree

LeMay - Well, we are stuck with the Supreme Court interpretation, Parliament can only amend or repeal.

Steyn - Yes, but the HRC are not following the narrow interpretation of Taylor.

LeMay - Dixon said it agreed with section 2D of the Charter.

Levant - There is a great distinction between 19 years ago and today. Then they did not levy fines. They were to be mediators, now they are aggressive. They are also political.

LeMay - The hate speech law in the Criminal Code is also worded broadly, would we have to repeal that too?

Levant - No, the Criminal Code doesn't have the same procedural problems.

LeMay - We are not responsible to investigate people, only Section 13.

Steyn - Even with broad language there are traditional protections in the Criminal Code that are not in administrative tribunals.

Brent Rathberger - Do you agree with Moon that language which incites or condones violence should be illegal.

Levant - We have always had laws against violence. Language cannot burn down synagogues of kill people, you need to change real laws before you can do that.

We cannot criminalize emotions or ideas.

Steyn - I agree with the incitement to violence ban, but in Saskatchewan a man was but under a speech ban for his opinion on gay marriage.

Rathberger - Do you think there is any room for costs in getting rid of frivolous lawsuits?

Levant - Yes it would help but there are still too many problems.

Steyn - I agree with Ezra. Common law has been worked out over the ages to arrive at what we have today. While it may be tempting to think that we can shortcut the system and arrive at a better solution, we should not. There are reasons why the law is the way it is.


To repeat my earlier disclaimer, this is not a transcript and nothing in here should be considered a quote. It is just a rough summary from my notes, pen and paper notes at that since I didn't want to try taking a laptop through security.

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