Mark Steyn

Steyn on Canada and the Commonwealth

Is the Alberta "Law" Society Even Crazier than the Crazy Alberta "Human Rights" Commission?

A few years back, Ezra Levant and I won a series of victories over various of Canada's totalitarian "human rights" commissions, culminating in the repeal by Parliament of the appalling thought-crime law, Section 13. The beneficiaries of the hate-speech racket have never forgiven us, and have spent the intervening years attempting to re-litigate their defeats in any venue that comes to hand. These days I spend most of my time on my luxury yacht in international waters beyond the jurisdictional reach of any sovereign state, but Ezra is more easily located, and, as a result, he's now being charged with a heinous new crime, deftly summarized by Kathy Shaidle:

Ezra Levant being prosecuted again, this time for calling Human Rights Tribunals 'crazy'.

No, really...

Yes, really:

Ezra's and my campaign to restore free speech to Canada began with the Danish Mohammed cartoons. As one of the handful of publishers in the free world willing to show his readers what innocent people were being threatened and killed over, Ezra was dragged before the Alberta "Human Rights" Commission by some dimestore imam purporting to be head of the Supreme Islamic Supreme Council of Islamic Supremacists or some such. He was interrogated by an "agent" of the Alberta "Human Rights" Commission, one Shirlene McGovern, who courtesy of YouTube briefly became the most famous Albertan on the planet. Ezra had asked to be allowed to video his inquisition, and Agent McGovern foolishly agreed.

The defining moment of the encounter came when Ezra was musing on the impact Agent McGovern and her disgraceful commission had on free speech. It wasn't just the time and money Canada's "human rights" commissions directly cost publishers defending their already published work; he pointed out the broader "chilling effect" - on all the stories that will never see the light of day because at the back of some editor's mind is the calculation of the expense of fending off Shirlene McGovern and her ilk. And, at the end of Ezra's little riff, Agent McGovern, licensed to chill, looked blandly across the table and shrugged:

You're entitled to your opinion, that's for sure.

And Ezra snapped back: No, if I was entitled to my opinion, I wouldn't be here. It's because that dreary familiar cliché is no longer operative in Canada that he was obliged to spend three years of his life and a six-figure sum justifying in law his entitlement to his opinion. Like many of the foot-soldiers of soft totalitarianism, Shirlene McGovern was such a halfwit mediocrity she was insufficiently self-aware to understand that she was using a shopworn banality that she herself had helped render obsolete.

But the goons bided their time. And now in Alberta it's not merely that you're not entitled to your opinion, you're not entitled to your opinion about the "human rights" commission - and that's for sure!

A few months back, Ezra, in a newspaper column, called the Alberta "Human Rights" Commission "crazy". I personally felt, given their monstrous track record, that insult-wise this was a bit feeble on Ezra's part. Nevertheless, Arman Chak, a former apparatchik for the Alberta "Human Rights" Commission and, indeed, one of its most zealous and disreputable prosecutors, filed a complaint with the Law Society of Alberta charging Ezra, an Alberta lawyer, with the crime of being "publicly discourteous or disrespectful to a Commissioner or Tribunal Chair of the Alberta Human Rights Commission" and with two additional offences because his "public comments regarding the Alberta Human Rights Commission were inappropriate and unbecoming and that such conduct is deserving of sanction."

So Alberta now punishes not just "hate speech" but "hate speech" about the people who punish you for "hate speech".

On the narrow legal point: When Maclean's and I caught the attention of the Canadian "Human Rights" Commission, the Ontario "Human Rights" Commission and the British Columbia "Human Rights" Tribunal, the first thing we did was have a big conference call with me and my editor Ken Whyte and various executive vice-presidents of our corporate parent, Rogers. And, as we had taken the position that we weren't going to defend the contents of the piece or our right to publish it, as to do so was an implicit acknowledgment of these bozos' jurisdiction over us, I asked Julian Porter, QC if we were allowed to comment on the bozos themselves and their bozo system. And Julian said that, as these commissions were, strictly speaking, "administrative tribunals" rather than courts proper, there was no such thing as "contempt of court". In theory, my naked contempt for, say, Judge Natalia Combs Greene of the DC Superior Court could result in adverse consequences for me and my counsel. But my naked contempt for Chief Commissar Barbara Hall of the Ontario "Human Rights" Commission attracts no such sanction.

So immediately Maclean's and I began demonstrating our contempt of the "human rights" commissions on a near industrial scale. During the trial itself, after we'd adjourned for the day, I stood in the lobby of the Robson Street courthouse in Vancouver and dismissed the three jurists as "a Soviet-style troika" of "pseudo-judges" presiding over a "kangaroo court", etc, etc, and, reading his Globe & Mail the following morning, Julian choked on his eggs Benedict and asked if I wouldn't mind dialing it back a notch, at least when I was physically on the premises. (A British Columbia sheriff's deputy stuck to me wherever I went, and had already warned me that the judges didn't like me autographing books in the well of the court. I ordered up an extra palette.)

But the point remains: it's not possible to be in "contempt" of the pseudo-judges' pseudo-court.

More importantly, if you're a real lawyer such as the Alberta Law Society purports to represents, you ought to be in contempt of the Alberta "Human Rights" Commission, and it speaks poorly of you if you're not, particularly in this 800th anniversary year of Magna Carta. It's the Alberta "Human Rights" Commission that's "inappropriate and unbecoming", not Ezra.

As soon as Maclean's and I began pushing back against the commission, we quickly realized how few real friends the racket had. Almost everyone who spoke up for a system that had dragged Canada's biggest news magazine into court for thought crimes turned out to be either a current or former beneficiary of the system - like the litigious Arman Chak. For example, Bill Baergen of Stettler, Alberta wrote to the Maclean's letters page as follows:

I take exception to Mark Steyn's unfounded allegation that the human rights racket is a disgrace. I am proud to say I was one of seven commissioners on the Alberta Human Rights Commission from 1995 to 2006 and never felt I was part of a racket, much less a disgraceful one. Nor do I accept the kangaroo court epithet thrown around by the erudite generalization-manufacturer, Steyn.

First, why does he place 'human rights' in quotation marks? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, forged by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948 uses the phrase, so it needn't be treated as something foreign to most people.

I responded to Mr Baergen that I put "human rights" in scare quotes when I refer to, say, the Alberta "Human Rights" Commission because the "human rights" commissions' notion of "human rights" has nothing to do with real human rights such as those adumbrated in the UN declaration. Indeed, Canada's scare-quote "human rights" — the "human right" to a labiaplasty or to smoke marijuana in another guy's doorway or to not be called a "loser" in the hair salon — explicitly trample over several genuine human rights, including such piffling trifles as due process and the presumption of innocence. That's why there was a 100 per cent conviction rate for Section 13 cases - higher than Saddam's Iraq or North Korea. So Bill Baergen's pals are in sustained systemic breach of the UN declaration. As for Mr Baergen's "pride" in being on the Alberta Human Rights Commission for a decade, chacun à son goût. Personally, I'd be ashamed.

Here's why: the Danish cartoons crisis precipitated a lot of predictably craven responses from European Commissioners, US State Department officials, the British Foreign Secretary, etc, all giving aid and comfort to the thugs and bullies threatening to "behead the enemies of Islam". Yet, for all the Anglo-Euro-American squishiness and generalized anguish about the need for the media to be more "sensitive", only one government agency in the western world actually hauled a publisher into court for the "crime" of publishing those cartoons — and it was the Alberta "Human Rights" Commission. So, yes, the Alberta HRC is a racket, and a disgraceful one, and that's why the system has so few defenders other than its apparatchiks.

I don't know whether Bill Baergen came to share my shame: He died in 2013, and I'm sure he was a pleasant fellow missed by his friends and family. Nonetheless, as a former Alberta schools superintendent, he lent his respectability to an unrespectable institution, and he shouldn't have. Nor should the Law Society of Alberta make the same mistake. The Alberta "Human Rights" Commission is not just crazy, but a depraved inversion of the eight-century legal tradition to which the Law Society is both heir and guardian. It perverts every basic principle of real law: Truth as a defence? No. Fair trial? No. Presumption of innocence? No. All the careful balance of the scales of justice are disdained by the totalitarian succubus squatting on one side.

Every real lawyer should regard the "human rights" commissions as crazy. Were the Law Society to sanction Ezra for his characterization, it would be a telling sign of just how far these fringe tribunals have crept inward to corrupt the very heart of the legal establishment.

~As Ezra and I always say, the process is the punishment: You lose an awful lot of time and money regardless of how the eventual verdict comes down. If you'd like to help Ezra out, please see here.

~Kate McMillan has launched a factually incontrovertible petition.

~For more on the Steyn/Levant battles against the "human rights" crazies, please see my book Lights Out: Islam, Free Speech and the Twilight of the West. Personally autographed copies are exclusively available from the SteynOnline bookstore. But, if you can live without my scrawl, the book can be yours digitally within moments direct from Indigo Chapters in Canada, or down south from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

from Canada vs Free Speech, July 24, 2015


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