Hate Speech or State Coercion?: Video of Ezra Levant Hearing Raises Serious Questions over Hate Speech Investigations in Canada

Ezra Levant is hardly a popular choice for many who defend free speech. He is considered by many as something of a right wingnut in Canada who publishes the controversial Western Standard. However, he has released a disturbing video of a hearing in which he was called to account for his publication of the Danish Mohammed cartoon that led to the violence around the world. The hearing before the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission should not sit well with civil libertarians who resist government controls or coercion of free speech. Watching these videos raises serious questions about the scope of these laws and whether they are intruding on protected areas of speech.

In February, 2006, Levant published the Danish Mohammed cartoons. In response, an imam filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission. The complaint charges him with “advocating hatemongering cartoons in the media” and “defaming me and my family because we follow and are related to Prophet Mohammed.”The Commission chose to investigate despite the fact that the publishing of such a cartoon is clearly protected speech, even if viewed as obnoxious speech. Notably, the hearing was closed to the public and Levant appears to have violated restrictions by releasing the video below. However, the video does show a very disturbing scene: a citizen being forced to answer for his motivations in speaking and publishing. It is not that investigation, Ms. McGovern, is abusive. To the contrary, she seems quite professional and respectful. Yet, even the polite atmosphere is a bit unnerving to watch a government official casually demand answers from a citizen in front of a peaceful bucolic painting.

Frankly, I do not know much about Levant but I doubt that we agree on much of anything in this world — with one notable exception: the dangers of these proceedings inThe greatest danger to free speech is often not the direct censorship by the government but the chilling effect that the threat of government action produces on citizens. Watching these videos, one could feel the temperature drop from precisely such a chilling effect. If citizens can be yanked into a hearing room to have to answer for their publication of a cartoon, it creates a chilling effect that is positively glacial for speech.

For the video clips, click here for opening statement and here here for questioning and here for more questioning andhere for more proceedings and here for closing statements and finally here for final discussions

For additional commentary, click here

5 thoughts on “Hate Speech or State Coercion?: Video of Ezra Levant Hearing Raises Serious Questions over Hate Speech Investigations in Canada”

  1. If any doubt the pessimism in the last paragraph above…

    Donahue and his organization and the National Chamber Litigation Center were crowing with ill-concealed glee, the ruling in Stoneridge LLC v Scientific-Atlanta that just came down. Another victory for the corporate defense bar and probably the last nail in the coffin for “scheme liability”.

    This follows the Tellabs and Dura decisions in our current Court’s extreme solicitude for the expunging of shareholder lawsuits in general.

  2. SadButTrue,

    Thank you. Thank you, for bringing Donahue’s outrageous remarks to our attention. I was aware of them earlier through other sources, but so far no thread topic has offered a vehicle to bring them up…

    Sometime it seems to me that almost all the issues brought up here and at other sites on the web play out against the backdrop of the longterm historical struggle between national governments and the “economic sector”. It seems as if the latter is in the ascendency….precisely because it has the means and delivery mechanisms of effecting the democratic process especially when it applies to the judiciary.

    Donahue’s organization has been campaigning against judges for years that they deem insufficiently friendly to Business. Since they have ample funds, they have enjoyed a tremendous success rate in their campaigns. Now they are targeting state AG races as well. So, all of our talk about constitutional issues must play out against the backdrop of a judiciary and legal system increasingly solicitous of business interests…back to substantive due process a la Lochner I am afraid.

  3. I am a Canadian. The idea of limiting hate speech seems reasonable enough until you start addressing the issue of where to draw the line. My understanding is that in this country it resides somewhere near the point of inciting others to violence, or at least some violation of law.

    This case takes the presumption upon which the law seems to be based and turns it on its ear. In previous cases the concern was that the offender would incite violence against the victim group – holocaust deniers fomenting anti-Semitic actions for instance. I think here the fear is that the violence will come reactively FROM the ‘victim’ group – ie. Islamic extremists. I doubt that the law anticipated this twist.

    Drifting from the immediate topic, I think free speech concerns in the U.S. have been turned on their ear by the systemic incursion into the political arena by big business. This is exacerbated by the odious concepts of Corporate Personhood on the one hand and the extension of First Amendment rights to commercial entities.

    Consider recent statements from U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donahue. Announcing an unprecedented amount of money to be spent in the upcoming election he refers to his constituency of multinationals as a ‘grass roots movement.’ This is not We The People, people.
    My Blog Reaction

  4. A constitutional area that I depart from some liberal orthodoxy is that area of “hate speech”.

    I dislike it as it seems facially counter to both the words and intent of the free speech clause.

    I admit to being an admirer and follower of Justice Hugo Black’s absolutism here. “‘No law’ means no law.”

    Life is easy as a Blackian absolutist: we don’t have to worry about balancing tests, community standards, fighting words doctrine, or any of the other of it.

    Saying certain words or speaking to certain topics in airport security gate lines has also been forbidden and this ban too is facially unconstitutional in my opinion. Not that my opinion carries much weight!

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