Free speech doesn’t come cheap, so why should it be any different for magazine publishers?
Enough already - Ezra Levant had it coming. So why is the right-wing gadfly being treated like a national hero?
Levant's written about his experience with human rights commissions in his book Shakedown (McClelland & Stewart) and, in the wake of its publication, has been celebrated by everyone from the Globe's Rex Murphy to comic Rick Mercer.
Even CBC Radio show The Current gave him a 20-minute platform last Tuesday, April 28, to ply his argument that he and others have been treated unfairly by commissions that have outlived their usefulness.
In case you've forgotten, it was Levant who published the infamous Danish Muhammad cartoons in his right-wing rag the Western Standard back in 2006, prompting a human rights complaint that cost him a lot of grief and money.
On the CBC, usually trenchant host Anna Maria Tremonti asked not one neutral question like "What did you think was going to happen?" It was all "In your book you say.... Tell us more about that." The item culminated in Mercer's pro-Levant rant.
Racism, Levant argued, is no longer a problem. How could a serious interviewer let that one go? And Levant was seemingly oblivious to the fact that the vast majority of human rights complaints are lodged by people with disabilities.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has received only two speech-related (any utterance, including cartoons, counts as "speech") complaints in its history. They didn't get heard because it doesn't have jurisdiction on those matters. And the Alberta Human Rights Commission actually dismissed the two complaints against Levant.
I don't believe for a second that Levant published those cartoons in pursuit of truth, justice and the public interest. His was a vainglorious, calculated rebellion that ended just the way he wanted it to, with top-viewed YouTube videos and thousands upon thousands of hits.
What's to complain about? When you're a publisher and go out on a limb and insult folks, you'd better be ready to defend yourself.
Sure, his legal fees are high. That's one of the things he gets right in his book; it's not fair that the targets of complaints have to pay their legal bills while complainants don't. And the commissions have become bureaucratically bloated. But Levant has nothing in common with the unsuspecting lugs he's dredged up who have faced these tribunals.
He could have shared those cartoons in a less inflammatory way. So what if they caricature Muhammad in no worse ways than Jesus is sent up in art and commentary? Write about them. The only reason to publish the actual cartoons is to provoke fury. Levant taunted Muslims, in the process trashing good relations in multicultural Canada. He couldn't imagine mitigating hurt feelings by banding together with moderate Muslim groups.
The Canadian Council of Muslim Women, for example, opposed Elections Canada when it gave Muslim women the right to vote with their faces covered. (You read that right.) He could have hosted a shared forum to view the cartoons, build bridges and resist extremist Muslims hijacking Islam around the world.
Nice idea, but Ezra Levant doesn't do bridges.
Or, if you're interested in information, why not post the images online and go viral? Anonymity protects you from human rights complaints. Levant doesn't do anonymity either.
Levant, natch, invokes the name of Mark Steyn (who's written the forward to Shakedown). Steyn's Macleans piece The Future Belongs To Islam and other stories were the subject of an Ontario Human Rights Commission complaint, one of those that was dismissed.
On the CBC, Levant referred to Steyn's essay as a warning against Islamic extremists. Read the article. It's an intemperate attack on all Islam and makes no effort to distinguish between fanatics and moderates. And that's why a complaint was lodged by Muslim law students.
Levant spouts all the near-religious-in-tone rhetoric about how freedom of speech is his inalienable right. Ridiculous. Freedom of speech as an absolute is an American fantasy. Belief in it has spawned the immense pornography industry and the U.S.'s vertically integrated media conglomerates that have a stranglehold on the way Americans get their information. That's because where speech is "free," the more money you have, the more speech you can buy.
And is it a coincidence that the person determined to dismantle our human rights commissions is a white guy who thinks he's been wronged because he didn't get to do whatever he wanted? Talk about trivial.
From where I'm sitting, Ezra Levant got exactly what he deserved.