It’s always enlightening to see who turns up in Stockwell Day’s orbit. Last month at an Alliance party barbecue in Victoria, who should saunter in but Doug Christie, lawyer for, among many others, neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel and Holocaust denier James Keegstra.
The two apparently didn’t speak at the affair, which was open to the public, and it’s just as well for Day, since handlers can now righteously claim that their man didn’t welcome the controversial figure. But Day can’t seem to help it — he continues to attract some of the scariest folks in the land.
Christie, of course, has made a career of pointing out the distinction between himself and his clients. I’m a lawyer protecting free speech, he likes to say, and everyone has the right to a defence.
But Day himself has trouble with exactly this subtlety within the justice system. The former Alberta treasurer allegedly didn’t make that separation when it came to Lorne Goddard, the Red Deer lawyer and school board trustee who represented a convicted pedophile on charges of possessing child porn.
Day weighed in on that case in a letter to a Red Deer newspaper, suggesting Goddard shared his client’s beliefs about the possession of kiddie porn. Goddard is now suing Day for defamation.
It’s notable that the Alliance leader hasn’t bothered to level that kind of guilt-by-association charge against Christie.
Others have been more suspicious of the lawyer.
“We’ve often wondered whether Christie’s association with the unsavoury characters he defends goes beyond the client-lawyer relationship,” says Manuel Prutschi, national director of community relations at the Canadian Jewish Congress.
In 1993, the chair and two vice- chairs of discipline at the Law Society of Upper Canada were of the opinion that Christie had indeed crossed the line.
In considering whether to discipline him for his conduct during the trial of Zundel and the war crimes trial of Imre Finta, the Law Society looked into, among other things, a speech Christie delivered during the Finta trial at a rally in support of his client.
In the speech, he suggested that Jewish school children who attended the trial were there for the “theatre or entertainment” and more interested in vengeance than justice.
Although the Law Society’s discipline chair, Harvey Strosberg, declined to issue a complaint against Christie, he stressed that “my decision is in no way an endorsement or an approval of Mr. Christie’s conduct.”
He also wrote that Christie’s comments “clearly disclose that he has crossed the line separating counsel from client: he has made common cause with a small, lunatic, anti-Semitic fringe element in our society. We know who Mr. Christie is.
“Suffering Mr. Christie’s words and opinions is part of the price one pays for upholding and cherishing freedom of speech in a free and democratic society. And society must be willing to accept this price. Mr. Christie’s anti-Semitic comments were not akin to the cry of fire in a crowded theatre. His theatre was mostly empty.”
Christie tells NOW in a telephone conversation that these comments were not “justified in fact” and that “(Strosberg) was in a position where he had qualified privilege for those comments. Otherwise, I would certainly have done something about it.”
As well as being the founder and leader of the separatist Western Canada Concept (WCC) party and voting for Day on both ballots in the Alliance leadership race, Christie is general counsel for an organization called the Canadian Free Speech League (CFSL), which has presented its “George Orwell Award” to controversial figures including BC columnist Doug Collins, who authored an article titled Swindler’s List attacking Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust film.
“It’s an organization whose objectives are the maintenance and preservation of freedom of expression, the defence of people who are prosecuted and persecuted for their beliefs, non-violent beliefs,” Christie says of the CFSL.
However, he says the group has no members, only a board of directors he declines to name, except to say that his wife’s been a director in the past.
So what was Christie doing at the Alliance barbecue?
“It was open to the public, as far as I know,” Christie says. “I went to hear what (Day) had to say.”
Since the WCC only runs candidates provincially and in the west, Christie has run as an independent federally.
“I don’t know what I’ll do in the future in that regard,” he says about the possibility of running in the next election.
The WCC advocates the separation of all provinces west of Ontario, as well as the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.
It also calls for, among other things, one official English language, anti-abortion laws, an end to official multiculturalism and more restricted immigration.
Christie says he didn’t meet Day at the barbecue and has never met him. However, he does know Day’s father, Stockwell Day Sr., who is a WCC member.
During the Alliance leadership race, Day Jr. was quizzed by a reporter about letters to the editor his father wrote to the Western Separatist Papers, a newsletter for WCC members.
In one letter published in January 1995, Day Sr. refers to same-sex partners as “cohabitating sodomites.” In another letter published in August 96, Day Sr. recalled a conversation he had with an immigration officer about an illegal alien he had hired. Day Sr. recalls telling the officer that “I find it curious… that this person is not welcome.
“She is a New Zealander with no criminal background — she looks like us, she speaks like us, she prays like us. Yet when we came through the waiting room, it gave me the impression that we were at a family reunion for the Harlem Globetrotters. What the hell is going on?”
NOW was unable to contact Day Sr. for comment.
“They’ve asked us not to give (his) number out,” says Day Jr.’s wife, Valerie Day, on the phone from the Alliance leader’s house in Red Deer.
Day was also not available for comment.
Stockwell Day’s spokesperson, Phil von Finckenstein, however, stresses that Day Jr. doesn’t agree with his father’s comments. He also says Day Jr. has no connection to Christie or the WCC.
“The only connection there is to Mr. Christie is that between (Christie) and (Day Sr.),” von Finckenstein says. “And Mr. Day has said on many occasions that he disagrees with his father on a number of issues, including the Western Canada Concept.”
As for Christie’s Alliance membership and his attendance at the barbecue, von Finckenstein says, “As long as members believe in the policies and principles of the Canadian Alliance, they’re members.”
So is there a place in the Alliance for Christie?
Says von Finckenstein, “That’s a decision for the national council to make.”
Founder and leader of the Western Canada Concept
General counsel of the Canadian Free Speech League
ERNST ZUNDEL: one of the world’s largest suppliers of neo-Nazi literature
JAMES KEEGSTRA: former teacher and Holocaust denier
MALCOLM ROSS: former teacher and Holocaust denier
IMRE FINTA: accused war criminal who was cleared
DOUG COLLINS: BC columnist who called Schindler’s List Swindler’s List
PAUL FROMM: former teacher who celebrated at Hitler birthday party