I was sorry not to be in Madam Justice Matheson's courtroom in Toronto today. A guest-hosting stint for Rush obliged me to stay south of the border and miss what proved to be a tense point-by-point slugfest between the plaintiff's lawyer and the defendant. In The National Post, Christie Blatchford describes it thus:
TORONTO â€” At one point, the judge begged, "Please be quiet." At another, she said wearily, "Can I ask you both to stop?"
Ontario Superior Court Judge Wendy Matheson was addressing the witness and the lawyer questioning him, respectively the right-wing pundit Ezra Levant and Brian Shiller, the lawyer from the Toronto firm of Ruby & Shiller, which often takes on leftie causes.
Levant had just pronounced, "If there's a left-wing case in Toronto, Ruby & Shiller is on it."
Shiller was a breath away from accusing Levant of deliberately mentioning on his TV show one of the firm's recent clients, a prominent man charged with child pornography offences, "to make the firm look as ugly as possible" and dirty its name.
Shiller won a point or two. He managed to keep from being admitted as evidence the May 6th 2008 episode of Steve Paikin's TVO show "The Agenda", in which I and the Sock Puppets finally met face to face - despite the Socks' best efforts to avoid contact with me:
Well, May 6 was an evening of fireworks here at the Agenda.
That was the first time a guest has spun around from the clamshell where we shoot our one-on-one interviews to challenge the other guests to a debate.
"I'm not scary, I don't eat Muslims for breakfast. I'm just one big, flabby, overweight Islamophobe and they're three fit young people. It shouldn't be threatening or menacing to them."
You can see my solo interview here, and the ensuing Steyn/Sock showdown here. The show is a not unimportant artifact because in it the Three Socks represented themselves as the plaintiffs in the "human rights" suits, even though they weren't. They were only the plaintiffs in the Ontario suit, which by then had been dismissed. In British Columbia and at the federal "human rights" commission, they were not the plaintiffs, but nevertheless promoted themselves as such and were widely accepted as such. One can understand why careless editors might take them as face value: The Ontario and BC complaints have identical language and were mailed from Toronto on the same day - yet are supposedly complaints by completely different people. In the BC courtroom, as on "The Agenda", Khurrum Awan was simultaneously plaintiff, witness, and part of the legal team. In Vancouver, where he claims he was merely a witness, he sat in chairs reserved for counsel and plaintiff, but (as Ezra testified and as I can confirm) never once in the public gallery.
My old friend Christie Blatchford is, I fear, missing something in her reports. Her general pitch is idealistic-young-law-students-vs-right-wing-blowhard. She calls Naseem Mithoowani "a lovely young woman", which she is. I rather enjoyed her company after that "Agenda" show five years ago. But she and Khurrum Awan were also very "formidable", as Julian Porter testified last week, and they were allied to a disreputable and thuggish organization whose audacious goal was to put Islam beyond criticism. It's always important to recognize when somebody is telling you to shut up - as Christie should know, after a group of similarly "lovely young" idealists shut down her speech at the University of Waterloo.
Six years on, Brian Shiller, a very formidable opponent indeed, is at least as dedicated, through various clients, to shutting up Ezra Levant. Whatever the underlying reason for his animus, it caused him in today's cross-examination to make a rare misstep:
Seemingly sensitive to the charge of being part of a political vendetta, Shiller's clear irritation only increased as Levant referenced those other cases on a number of occasions. It became a running joke to the point where the trial judge, Madam Justice Matheson, had to caution the spectators in court to keep quiet because of the laughter...
But a pivotal occurrence came when Shiller asked about claims Levant made that the plaintiff, Khurran Awan, was being bankrolled for the current lawsuit. Evidently thinking he had the smoking gun of an example of an outrageous, untrue accusation, Awan's attorney asked what the basis was for Levant making that claim.
In a moment of exceptional courtroom drama, Levant replied that he would answer the question, but wanted to make sure that Mr. Shiller understood that he was willing to answer the question, and how he knew the answer. Shiller repeated the question and Levant's response was a shock. Levant replied that Shiller himself had provided that information in a conversation with his lawyer.
Shiller became flustered, almost stuttering, and backed away from that line of question immediately, muttering about his unwillingness to be a witness in the case he was conducting as an attorney. But the damage was done.
I want Ezra to win - because his characterization of Khurrum Awan is harsh but true, and certainly truer than Christie's "idealistic young law student". And because, if Awan wins, the shut-up types will be emboldened. It's all down now to closing arguments:
As for an outcome, I just won't hazard a guess, there is room, significant room, for interpretation between what you or I might consider fair comment and what the judge may decide to be a libelous factual assertion.
~Mark's book on free speech and the Canadian Islamic Congress' attempts to criminalize his writing, and Ezra Levant's book on his battle against the "human rights" commissions (with an introduction by Mark) are available together for one low price as the SteynOnline Free Speech Special. And Mark will be happy to autograph the books for you. Alternatively, with the Mann vs Steyn trial looming, you might prefer to buy Lights Out as part of our Steyn vs the Stick package.