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Ezra Levant
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

 
ONE ON ONE WITH EZRA LEVANT: THE ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD TO FACE LEGAL SANCTION FOR REPRINTING DANISH CARTOONS DEPICTING MOHAMMED

“What I underwent was [essentially] the first prosecution of blasphemy laws in Canada in over eighty years” says Levant

By Rhonda J Spivak, B.A., L.L.B.

Ezra Levant, as publisher of the Western Standard Magazine, says he was  investigated in a highly ‘shocking” case by “ a secular government agency”[ the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission], for  “900” days after he “made an editorial decision” to  reprint Danish cartoons   depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed  “to illustrate a news story.”

Levant, a dynamic  fast-talking Calgarian lawyer, whose mother Leslie Meloff and father Marvin Levant grew up in Winnipeg, gave the Winnipeg Jewish Review a one and a half hour interview when he was in Winnipeg in May 2009.

Levant said a few of the cartoons were ‘bland” and others were ‘ critical of  radical Islam.’  One showed Mohammed in heaven saying “Stop, stop, we ran out of virgins- which was a critical comment about the promise of  “ 72 celestial virgins offered by radical Muslims in their terrorist recruitment efforts.”


Originally, the 12 cartoons  published in 2005 didn’t make any international  news.

“They became a big deal when a group of  Danish imams went on a world tour to drum up Muslim anger against Denmark.  The group of imams added in three additional cartoons that were made up.  These three new [fake] cartoons, which hadn’t been published anywhere before, and were the imams’ own handiwork- included one showing Mohammed having sex with a dog, and another of Mohammed with a pig face.  Syrian and Iran got involved  and used these cartoons to  whip up riots in  their  own cities and deflect attention from their own problems.  Syria was facing a UN investigation of the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafik Harari, and Iran’s plan to develop nuclear weapons was  beginning to marginalize it diplomatically…Over 100 people were killed by cartoon violence,” said Levant.

“It was the biggest news story in the world, but one thing was missing- the pictures, “ added Levant, whose magazine became “the only media outlet in the country to print the cartoons.

 CBC and others didn’t print them out of  ‘respect” for Islam, which Levant  said was “self-censorship.

“We printed them [the cartoons] not as our opinion. We showed them as a prosecutor would show an exhibit to the jury… our readers wanted to see what all the fuss was about…We got letters of support [for this decision] from some Muslims who said they came to this country to be free…  Irshad Manji wrote in a letter of support,” said Levant, who noted that his conservative news magazine’s motto was “tell it like it is.”

After Levant published the cartoons, “a Calgary imam, Syad Soharwardy, [a Pakistani immigrant to Canada], went to the police and demanded they arrest me.  The police had to explain to him that this wasn’t Saudi Arabia or Pakistan and police in Canada don’t enforce the Koran,” Levant explained.

But then Soharwardy then filed a complaint with the Alberta  Human Rights  and Citizenship Commission [AHRCC] which was accepted by the commission the next day.

“He [Soharwardy] cited verses form the Koran in his complaint.  I was investigated for 900 days.  It was a fatwa being prosecuted by a secular human rights commission.  I was a one-man stimulus package for lawyers. My legal fees were $100,000 dollars.  They lost. I won, but not really - I’m out 100,000 dollars. I didn’t get my costs.  The Imam who went after me is a public advocate of Sha’aria law.  He managed to get what was in essence the first prosecution of blasphemy laws in this country in over 80 years.” said Levant. 

“In the middle of it all, they [the AHRCC] offered me a deal.  I had to pay 2000 dollars and give the Imam one page in my magazine to let him write his interpretation…In March 2007, Maclean’s magazine was hauled before three Human Rights commissions for its discussion of  Radical Islam [for publishing an excerpt from Mark Steyn’s book America Alone].  They demanded six pages of McLean’s [in a proposed deal]”added Levant, who said that the complaint against him ought to never have amounted to an investigation.

Levant said he raised the money to fight back against the AHRCC because “I was able to raise donations over the internet from people around the world.  My wife was pregnant…I didn’t have the money.”


‘Not even the Danish cartoonists themselves had been hauled in to answer for what they’d done, [nor any of the newspapers throughout Europe who had republished the cartoons],” said Levant, who has chronicled the investigation against him in his new book, Shake Down.

Levant, whose  blog, ezralevant.com was voted Best Canadian Blog in the 2008 Weblog Awards,  said that the  investigation  against him shows  Canadian values and  legal processes “have been hijacked by radical Islam.’ 

He said that the Koran isn’t the law of the land, neither is the Bible”  and “we can’t impose a Muslim theocracy or a Jewish theocracy, or any other kind of theocracy in Canada.

“There are two ways [for Radical Islam] to take on a magazine that’s critical of it.  The first way is to blow up the magazine and the second way is to use our Western legal system against us,” said Levant, who added that in his view the “procedures of Human Rights Commissions are “awful.”


“They allow hearsay evidence…And they don’t even need a search warrant before they search ….They took documents and my hard drive without having a search warrant..,” he said.

Levant noted that  under section 23 of  the AHRCC there are no exceptions for  information, such as “letters between me and my lawyer” , which are traditionally regarded as privileged by “real courts.”

In a 2008 submission to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, prepared by  B’nai Brith Canada’s senior legal counsel, David Matas, Matas noted that s. 22(1) of the  Alberta Human Rights legislation gave the commission the power “to dismiss at any time a complaint it considers without merit.”

After pointing out that the “Soharwardy complaint sat on the books for 2 years”, Matas wrote that “A complaint without merit should be dismissed a lot more quickly than that.”

When asked about his views of Shahina Siddiqui’s complaint against B’nai Brith Canada investigated by the Manitoba Human Rights  Commission, he said that  B’nai Brith was also put  through  an ordeal by “ a kangaroo court”, (with an anonymous complainant)  and  also unnecessarily became the target of  Radical Islam.

Levant notes  he is friends with “moderate Muslims” who also oppose the  agenda of Radical  Islam in Canada, and named Salim Mansur, Tarik Fatah (founder of the moderate Canadian Muslim  Congress) and “one of my best friends, Alykhan Velshi, (communications director for Jason Kenny,  Canada’s Minister of Immigration and Multiculturism).

“They pay a big price for being liberal minded,” said Levant.  “It’s not easy-you can be ostracized and for some it can be uncomfortable continuing to go to their Mosque.”

According to Levant, because of cases like his, and others against McLean’s magazine, and B’nai Brith, “There is bipartisan support to reform human rights commissions.”

 
 Human Rights Commissions and  Hate Speech: B’nai Brith and Levant’s Diverging Views


Although both B’nai Brith Canada and Ezra Levant have complaints against the workings of human rights commissions, they have very divergent views of what ought to be done to remedy the situation.

 

Levant believes that  Human rights commissions and hate tribunals ought to be  dismantled altogether, and there ought to be no regulation of hate speech by  human rights commissions or by the criminal law.

Regarding Holocaust denial, Levant said:

If someone is denying the Holocaust, we have to stand up and debate them. If someone is spewing hatred, we have to rebut them, but I’m against any government censorship of their speech.  At least we know who the haters are…I want freedom of speech for the  right and the left…Countries that censor speech have more violence because people can’t vent. Look at Saudi Arabia. Freedom of speech is a great safety valve…”

Levant is against any criminal hate laws and says that David Ahenakew, in his view, ought not have been prosecuted for his hate speech.  “You think I’m not offended by Ahenakew …But nobody but his grandchildren would have been interested in listening to him…Now he’s a national celebrity…The answer is to stand up and debate him…,”  Levant added.

According to Levant, “Censorship never works out well for Jews…Jewish organizations [such as B’nai Brith and  Canadian Jewish Congress] think that these laws of censorship will only be used to protect them, but they’ll also be used against them …” he  emphasized.

“The irony is [these] very hate laws are now being used against the Jews by the likes of the Canadian Islamic Congress... Jews should never have endorsed "hate speech" laws. It's not only un-Jewish, but it's set a precedent that is being used against the Jews (like me) and non-Jewish Zionists (like Mark Steyn),” Levant wrote to the Jewish Post & News in an email.
 
Unlike Levant, B’nai Brith Canada, in its 2008 submission to the Canadian Human Rights Commission has taken the position that “Human Rights Commissions and hate tribunals ought not to be dismantled, but their procedures need to be improved.”

In the submission, David Matas, senior counsel for B’nai Brith recommended improvement. He wrote that Human Rights Commissions and Tribunals “need to be  educated on the threat that Islamism and political Islam pose for human rights.”


He also wrote that human rights commissions need to have the power to award costs to the winning side, and further, “Where a commission has assumed conduct of a case on the side of the complainant but loses at the tribunal level, the tribunal should have the power to award costs not just against the complainant but also against the commission..

Additionally, according to Matas, “The screening and conduct functions of commissions need to be decoupled. Commissions should be screening complaints in every case.”

As well, B’nai Brith has  advocated that  anonymous complaints  and multiple complaints in  different  provinces over the same  incident  ought not to be allowed.

 However, B’nai Brith  ended it’s submission, by concluding:

“No matter what the procedures…any jurisdiction dealing with Islamism or political Islam without any awareness of what these ideologies are or the  damages they pose will not function effectively.  Canadian institutions generally, and human rights commissions and tribunals in particular, need to lay in their defences against these ideologies.”

TheWinnipeg Jewish Review  asked Matas to comment on Levant’s position that hate speech ought not to be regulated by criminal law or human rights commissions at all.  Matas responded by email:

“ This [Levant’s argument] is an argument which can be used about any law.  Israel is falsely accused of genocide.  So there should be no law against genocide and so on.  The defence against abuse of the laws is to stop the abuse, not repeal the laws.  That sort of reaction is a prescription for anarchy.  It is in everyone's interest that we have a society living under the rule of law rather than living in a lawless society.”

 

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.