Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights

Shakedown:  How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights
By Ezra Levant

McClelland & Stewart
232 pp., $25.95
When in September 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 editorial cartoons, most depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed, Muslims worldwide reacted with protests and violence that lead to the death of over 100 people and the destruction of three Danish foreign embassies.  Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen described the cartoon riots as Denmark's worst international crisis since World War II.  Much debate ensued as to whether the depictions of Mohammed were legitimate expressions of free speech characteristic of Western criticism of all religions or, if in fact, the cartoons were blasphemous and evidence of rampant Islamophobia. 

By February of 2006, the cartoons and their aftermath had become a major news story and a worldwide controversy.  Although the story of the riots was widely covered by the Western media, few in print and broadcast media actually displayed the offending cartoons.  Bristling at the idea of self-censorship and refusing to pander to political correctness, Ezra Levant, a lawyer and publisher of Western Standard magazine -- based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada -- made what appeared to be a logical journalistic decision to publish the story with the accompanying cartoons.  He felt strongly that this newsworthy story warranted showing the source of the chaos.

Levant's single action of journalistic prerogative led to his battle of a lifetime over his own right to free expression and freedom from prosecution for exercising it.  Assuming that as a Canadian citizen his right to free speech was protected, Levant was horrified to discover that his rights could be infringed by a human rights commission (HRC) acting in the interest of an offended Muslim and champion of Sharia law, Imam Syed Soharwardy.  Much to Levant's surprise, a commission that he imagined was vested with the responsibility to uphold the rights of Canadians, avowed that the imam's right not to be offended superseded Levant's right to free speech.

In his fast-paced, well-researched book, "Shakedown:  How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights," Levant recounts his Orwellian journey into the bowels of the human rights commission and uncovers the shocking, modus operandi of this taxpayer-funded, quasi-omnipotent organization.   Courageously, Levant opted to buck the tide by eschewing the usual route of capitulation chosen by 90% of those charged by the Canadian human rights commissions.  Instead of offering a perfunctory apology and paying a fine to the offended imam, Levant took a 900-day, principled route to battle valiantly for his rights.   He chronicled his battle with the commission on his blog and in a series of You Tube videos viewed by over 600,000 people. 

In "Shakedown," Levant explains that Canada's human rights commissions, at the province level, initially had a legitimate role when they were founded in the 1970s. They fought typical discrimination cases of the day involving employment, housing, retail establishments and country clubs.  As Canadian society evolved and became more tolerant and as society at large extinguished discriminatory practices, the commissions' focus changed.  Rather than be deemed obsolete, HRCs launched into ideological censorship and began prosecuting cases of hate speech brought by individuals who were offended by opinions they found unacceptable.  At that point, the Canadian Human Rights Commissions, which employ over 200 people and operate on an annual budget of $25 million, crossed the line from the fight for equal civil rights to the battle for special dispensations for protected groups, such as Muslims, homosexuals and racial minorities.

In his journey through the bureaucratic maze of Canada's human rights commissions, Levant exposes how these taxpayer-funded bodies operate above and outside of the law.  For example, HRCs are not required to follow the same legal procedures and regulations required of the Canadian court system.  Habeas corpus - the right to a hearing, the guarantee of a speedy trial and the application of punishment or fines commensurate with an offense - are not features of HRC justice.  Also, whereas judges are appointed for life and expected to be neutral, human rights commissioners generally lack legal training and law enforcement backgrounds.   They are political appointees who can retain political offices and engage in partisan pursuits.  Further, in a court of law, an impoverished defendant is provided with defense counsel and the loser is required to pay legal fees.  In human rights cases, HRC services the complainant and the accused must pay for his own defense.

In a clear violation of federal laws protecting the rights of the accused, HRCs are not restrained by unreasonable, search-and-seizure regulations.  They are granted open access at any time and without a search warrant to any buildings, documents, records and individuals.  Hearsay is allowed in commission proceedings, the accused has no right to face his accuser and, in violation of due process, documents and other evidence may not necessarily be provided to the defendant prior to the hearing or at all.  Levant astutely observes in "Shakedown" that murderers receive greater protections under the law. 

In his informative book, Levant cites several shocking case rulings by Canadian HRCs.  He recounts the case of a strapping male-to-female transvestite who sued the Vancouver Rape Relief Centre when denied a job as a rape crisis counselor.  Rather than consider the feelings of vulnerable women who felt unsafe speaking to a man about their trauma, the HRC ruled in favor of the transvestite.  A former McDonald's employee successfully sued the fast-food chain for its hygiene policy; the worker claimed chapped hands as a disability.   HRC ruled in the employee's favor and her right to avoid frequent hand washing. It ordered McDonald's to pay her $23,000 for "lost income" and $25,000 for her "dignity and self-respect." A conservative Christian pastor was prosecuted by the HRC for a letter to the editor opposing homosexuality that he submitted to a local newspaper.  In a stunning violation of the rights provided under Canadian free speech laws, he was fined and ordered to never again make disparaging remarks about homosexuals. 

Levant points out the irony of the human rights commissions' penchant for punishing one group for its views while not cracking down on others.  In the history of the HRCs, only white Christians have been prosecuted for hate speech.   He explains that while conservative Christians could be targeted for their views on homosexual marriage, other groups, say Muslim imams who espouse support for shari'ah law and its subjugation of women, would escape notice.

"Shakedown" is an enlightening expose of the dangerous power of unrestrained, politically appointed commissions who take it upon themselves to define the parameters of acceptable speech and prosecute alleged violators of their politically correct doctrine.  Levant warns that the Canadian human rights commissions are engaged in the destruction of civil rights in the name of human rights and must be stopped.  His final chapter offers some suggestions for reforming the HRCs and for fighting back against an unfair system that jeopardizes every Canadian's right to free expression. 
Shakedown:  How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights
By Ezra Levant

McClelland & Stewart
232 pp., $25.95
When in September 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 editorial cartoons, most depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed, Muslims worldwide reacted with protests and violence that lead to the death of over 100 people and the destruction of three Danish foreign embassies.  Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen described the cartoon riots as Denmark's worst international crisis since World War II.  Much debate ensued as to whether the depictions of Mohammed were legitimate expressions of free speech characteristic of Western criticism of all religions or, if in fact, the cartoons were blasphemous and evidence of rampant Islamophobia. 

By February of 2006, the cartoons and their aftermath had become a major news story and a worldwide controversy.  Although the story of the riots was widely covered by the Western media, few in print and broadcast media actually displayed the offending cartoons.  Bristling at the idea of self-censorship and refusing to pander to political correctness, Ezra Levant, a lawyer and publisher of Western Standard magazine -- based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada -- made what appeared to be a logical journalistic decision to publish the story with the accompanying cartoons.  He felt strongly that this newsworthy story warranted showing the source of the chaos.

Levant's single action of journalistic prerogative led to his battle of a lifetime over his own right to free expression and freedom from prosecution for exercising it.  Assuming that as a Canadian citizen his right to free speech was protected, Levant was horrified to discover that his rights could be infringed by a human rights commission (HRC) acting in the interest of an offended Muslim and champion of Sharia law, Imam Syed Soharwardy.  Much to Levant's surprise, a commission that he imagined was vested with the responsibility to uphold the rights of Canadians, avowed that the imam's right not to be offended superseded Levant's right to free speech.

In his fast-paced, well-researched book, "Shakedown:  How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights," Levant recounts his Orwellian journey into the bowels of the human rights commission and uncovers the shocking, modus operandi of this taxpayer-funded, quasi-omnipotent organization.   Courageously, Levant opted to buck the tide by eschewing the usual route of capitulation chosen by 90% of those charged by the Canadian human rights commissions.  Instead of offering a perfunctory apology and paying a fine to the offended imam, Levant took a 900-day, principled route to battle valiantly for his rights.   He chronicled his battle with the commission on his blog and in a series of You Tube videos viewed by over 600,000 people. 

In "Shakedown," Levant explains that Canada's human rights commissions, at the province level, initially had a legitimate role when they were founded in the 1970s. They fought typical discrimination cases of the day involving employment, housing, retail establishments and country clubs.  As Canadian society evolved and became more tolerant and as society at large extinguished discriminatory practices, the commissions' focus changed.  Rather than be deemed obsolete, HRCs launched into ideological censorship and began prosecuting cases of hate speech brought by individuals who were offended by opinions they found unacceptable.  At that point, the Canadian Human Rights Commissions, which employ over 200 people and operate on an annual budget of $25 million, crossed the line from the fight for equal civil rights to the battle for special dispensations for protected groups, such as Muslims, homosexuals and racial minorities.

In his journey through the bureaucratic maze of Canada's human rights commissions, Levant exposes how these taxpayer-funded bodies operate above and outside of the law.  For example, HRCs are not required to follow the same legal procedures and regulations required of the Canadian court system.  Habeas corpus - the right to a hearing, the guarantee of a speedy trial and the application of punishment or fines commensurate with an offense - are not features of HRC justice.  Also, whereas judges are appointed for life and expected to be neutral, human rights commissioners generally lack legal training and law enforcement backgrounds.   They are political appointees who can retain political offices and engage in partisan pursuits.  Further, in a court of law, an impoverished defendant is provided with defense counsel and the loser is required to pay legal fees.  In human rights cases, HRC services the complainant and the accused must pay for his own defense.

In a clear violation of federal laws protecting the rights of the accused, HRCs are not restrained by unreasonable, search-and-seizure regulations.  They are granted open access at any time and without a search warrant to any buildings, documents, records and individuals.  Hearsay is allowed in commission proceedings, the accused has no right to face his accuser and, in violation of due process, documents and other evidence may not necessarily be provided to the defendant prior to the hearing or at all.  Levant astutely observes in "Shakedown" that murderers receive greater protections under the law. 

In his informative book, Levant cites several shocking case rulings by Canadian HRCs.  He recounts the case of a strapping male-to-female transvestite who sued the Vancouver Rape Relief Centre when denied a job as a rape crisis counselor.  Rather than consider the feelings of vulnerable women who felt unsafe speaking to a man about their trauma, the HRC ruled in favor of the transvestite.  A former McDonald's employee successfully sued the fast-food chain for its hygiene policy; the worker claimed chapped hands as a disability.   HRC ruled in the employee's favor and her right to avoid frequent hand washing. It ordered McDonald's to pay her $23,000 for "lost income" and $25,000 for her "dignity and self-respect." A conservative Christian pastor was prosecuted by the HRC for a letter to the editor opposing homosexuality that he submitted to a local newspaper.  In a stunning violation of the rights provided under Canadian free speech laws, he was fined and ordered to never again make disparaging remarks about homosexuals. 

Levant points out the irony of the human rights commissions' penchant for punishing one group for its views while not cracking down on others.  In the history of the HRCs, only white Christians have been prosecuted for hate speech.   He explains that while conservative Christians could be targeted for their views on homosexual marriage, other groups, say Muslim imams who espouse support for shari'ah law and its subjugation of women, would escape notice.

"Shakedown" is an enlightening expose of the dangerous power of unrestrained, politically appointed commissions who take it upon themselves to define the parameters of acceptable speech and prosecute alleged violators of their politically correct doctrine.  Levant warns that the Canadian human rights commissions are engaged in the destruction of civil rights in the name of human rights and must be stopped.  His final chapter offers some suggestions for reforming the HRCs and for fighting back against an unfair system that jeopardizes every Canadian's right to free expression.