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