Montreal, August 15, 2008 • No 258




Ezra Levant is a Canadian blogger, author, journalist, lawyer and conservative political activist. His comments and articles are published on




by Ezra Levant


          Some 900 days ago, the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities launched a human rights complaint in Alberta against me because I reprinted of a series of Muhammad cartoons—the same cartoons that several winters ago set off an orgy of outrage in the Muslim world—in the now-defunct Western Standard magazine [see "'Human Rights' Vs. Magna Carta." NDLR: The magazine still has an online version]. Now, the government has finally acquitted me of illegal “discrimination.” Taxpayers are out more than $500,000 for an investigation that involved 15 bureaucrats at the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The legal cost to me and the former magazine is $100,000.


          The case would have been thrown out long ago if I had been charged in a criminal court, instead of a human rights commission. That’s because accused criminals have the right to a speedy trial. Accused publishers at human rights commissions do not.

          And if I had been a defendant in a civil court, the judge would now order the losing parties to pay my legal bills. Instead, the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities won’t have to pay me a dime. Neither will Syed Soharwardy, the Calgary imam who abandoned his identical complaint against me this spring.

          Both managed to hijack a secular government agency to prosecute their radical Islamic fatwa against me—the first blasphemy case in Canada in over 80 years. Their complaints were dismissed, but it is inaccurate to say that they lost: They got the government to rough me up for nearly three years, at no cost to them. The process I was put through was a punishment in itself—and a warning to any other journalists who would defy radical Islam.

          The 11-page government report into my activities is a breathtakingly arrogant document. In it, Pardeep Gundara, a low-level bureaucrat, assumes the role of editor-in-chief for the entire province of Alberta. He went through our magazine article and gave his own thoughts on the cartoons, and pronounced on our magazine’s decision to publish them. The government’s wannabe journalist gets facts wrong and he’s obviously not good with deadlines. We’d never have hired him at our magazine. But the laugh is on us—he’s apparently our boss, and the boss of all journalists in Alberta.

          In his report, Gundara presents as “fact” his personal opinion of the Muhammad cartoons. He says they’re “stereotypical, negative and offensive.” That’s one viewpoint. Others have a different view. Why should anyone care about Gundara’s personal opinion? Do I need permission from him—or anyone other than my conscience—before I publish things in the future? Is this column OK by him?

          Gundara forgave me and the Western Standard our sins because, according to him, the offensiveness of the cartoons was “muted by the context of the accompanying article” and we ran letters both for and against the cartoons in our subsequent issue. He also acquitted us because “the cartoons were not simply stuck in the middle of the magazine with no purpose or related story.”

"My dismissal is not a victory for freedom of the press: Alberta’s press is not free—it is now subject to the approval of the government."

          Let me translate: You’d better be “reasonable” in how you use your freedoms, or you won’t be allowed to keep them. You’d better not run political cartoons “simply stuck in the middle” of a magazine. You’d better have a “purpose” for being “negative” that is approved by a bureaucrat, when he finally gets around to it three years later.

          That is not acceptable to me. I am not interested in Gundara’s views about the cartoons. I’m not interested in learning his personal rules of thumb for when I can or can’t express myself. This is Canada, not Saudi Arabia.

          My dismissal is not a victory for freedom of the press: Alberta’s press is not free—it is now subject to the approval of the government.

          But Canadians have the right to a free press in spite of the government. We have the right to break every one of Gundara’s petty and subjective rules.

          Exactly two months before I was acquitted, another Albertan was sentenced by the HRC on the exact same charge: “discrimination” in a newspaper. Five years ago, Reverend Stephen Boissoin wrote a controversial column about gay rights. It passed all of Gundara’s homemade rules: It was in the context of a broader debate; it was followed by many opposing letters to the editor; it had a “purpose,” etc. But Rev. Boissoin was fined $7,000 and banned for life from giving sermons or even sending private emails that were “disparaging.” To top it off, he was ordered by the HRC to write a public renunciation of his faith.

          It’s obvious why I was acquitted and Boissoin was convicted. I’ve been a political pain in the neck for the HRC. Rev. Boissoin? He was quiet, so he’s roadkill. But neither of us are free—we both have to have our views checked out by the government.

          Of course I’m glad to be done with this malicious prosecution—though my antagonists can still appeal my acquittal.

          But two years ago, the HRC told me that if I paid a few thousand dollars to my accusers and gave them a page in our magazine, I’d be set free. Most victims of the HRCs accept deals like that, and it’s certainly cheaper than a 900-day fight. But getting the approval of the HRC’s censor is morally no better than their shakedown attempt. Whether I have to pay off a radical imam or appease a meddling bureaucrat, it’s still an infringement on our Canadian liberties.


* Article first published in the National Post on August 7, 2008.