Winner of the Writer's Trust of Canada / Samara's - Best Canadian Political Book of the Last 25 Years
Part memoir, part investigative journalism, this is a shocking and controversial look at the corruption of Canada’s human rights commissions.
“On January 11, 2008, I was summoned to a 90-minute government interrogation. My crime? As the publisher of Western Standard magazine, I had reprinted the Danish cartoons of Mohammed to illustrate a news story. I was charged with the offence of “discrimination,” and made to appear before Alberta’s “human rights commission” for questioning. As crazy as it sounds, I became the only person in the world to face legal sanction for printing those cartoons.”
As a result of this highly publicized event, Ezra Levant began investigating other instances in which innocent people have had their freedoms compromised by bureaucrats presuming to protect Canadians’ human rights. He discovered some disturbing and even bizarre cases, such as the tribunal ruling that an employee at a McDonald’ s restaurant in Vancouver did not have to wash her hands at work. And the human rights complaint filed by a Calgary hair stylist against the women at a salon school who called him a “loser.” In another case that seemed stranger than fiction, an emotionally unstable transvestite fought for — and won — the right to counsel female rape victims, despite the anguished pleas of those same traumatized victims. Human rights commissions now monitor political opinions, fine people for expressing politically incorrect viewpoints, censor websites, and even ban people, permanently, from saying certain things.
The book is a result of Levant’s ordeal and the research it inspired. It shows how our concept of human rights has morphed into something dangerous and drastically different from its original meaning. Shakedown is a convincing plea to Canadians to reclaim their basic liberties.
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Ezra Levant is a lawyer, journalist and political activist. As the publisher of the Western Standard magazine, he was charged by the Government of Alberta for publishing the Danish cartoons of Mohammed. He is a frequent radio talk show guest known for his plain-spoken opinions, and he has written columns for media as diverse as the Calgary Sun and Canadian Lawyer. He has also written three non-fiction books: Youthquake, Fight Kyoto, and The War on Fun. He lives in Calgary.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
On January 11, 2008, I was summoned to a ninety-minute government interrogation. My crime? As the publisher of Western Standard magazine, I had reprinted Danish cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed to illustrate a news story. I was charged with the offence of “discrimination” and made to appear before Alberta’s Human Rights and Citizenship Commission (AHRCC) for questioning. As crazy as it sounds, I became the only person in the world to face legal sanction for printing those cartoons.
“In an investigation interview,” my interrogator, Shirlene McGovern, said, “I always ask people [their intent] ... what was the intent and purpose of your article with the cartoon illustrations?” That one sentence summed up the commission’s illiberal nature. The idea that the government could haul in a publisher and force him to answer questions about his political beliefs didn’t seem extraordinary to this woman. Apparently, it was all in a day’s work.
And what was my intent and purpose? I’ve been asked that question a hundred times since I published the cartoons, and I always answer the same way: The images — and the reaction they caused — were newsworthy. As a magazine publisher, I am in the news business. My colleagues and I wanted to show our readers what the fuss was about. But when a government officer demanded to know why I’d dared publish the cartoons, that matter-of-fact answer just didn’t seem appropriate.
“We published those cartoons for the intention and purpose of exercising our inalienable rights,” I declared, my political passions getting the better of my good manners, “to publish whatever the hell we want, no matter what the hell you think.”
I recorded the interrogation, and when it was over, I went straight home to upload the footage to YouTube, the Internet video-sharing site. I was proud that I’d stood up for free speech, and I wanted some of my friends and supporters to hear what I’d said.
The videos spread like wildfire. Over the next two days, more than one hundred thousand people watched them — making my interview the fifth most watched video clip on the entire Internet that weekend. No one had ever seen a government bureaucrat grill a journalist about his private thoughts — at least not in a free country such as Canada.
In all, more than six hundred thousand people have watched my January 11 investigation interview. My battle with Canada’s human rights commissions — which has since been joined by Mark Steyn, Maclean’s magazine, and legions of bloggers — has grown bigger than I could ever have imagined.
As a result of my experience, I began investigating other cases in which innocent people have had their freedoms compromised by bureaucrats presuming to protect Canadians’ human rights. What I learned shocked me.
Like most Canadians, I had previously associated the term human rights with the noble goal of eliminating real discrimination against blacks, Jews, Muslims, gays, women, and other groups that historically have been targeted by bigotry. Yet with little political fanfare or media scrutiny, human rights commissions have shifted their mission in recent years. As real discrimination has waned in our increasingly tolerant society, they have shifted into the field of what George Orwell called “thoughtcrime.”
Human rights commissions now monitor political opinions, fine people for expressing politically incorrect viewpoints, censor websites, and even ban people, permanently, from saying certain things. I’ve also seen how empire building government bureaucrats actively seek out complaints — even absurd complaints that have nothing at all to do with real human rights — to keep a caseload churning through their grievance industry.
It’s not just politically incorrect ideas that are under attack. It could be almost anything. I was stunned to discover that Canada’s human rights commissions ruled that a McDonald’s restaurant in Vancouver had to accommodate an employee who couldn’t wash her hands often enough at work. I learned about a Calgary hairstylist who filed a human rights complaint because the girls at salon school called him a “loser.” The commission actually had a trial about it. In another case that seemed stranger than fiction, an emotionally unstable transsexual fought for — and won — the right to counsel female rape victims at a women’s shelter, despite the anguished pleas of the rape victims themselves not to let him in.
The more I dug, the more I discovered that my interrogation at the hands of the government wasn’t unusual. Every day, Canadians from coast to coast are trapped in these Alice in Wonderland commissions, where bizarre new human rights are made up on the spot, and where regular legal procedures don’t apply. Sometimes, it feels like Saudi justice; sometimes, it smacks of the old Soviet Union; sometimes, it sounds like a Saturday Night Live sketch. Rarely does it feel Canadian.
This book is the product of my ordeal and the research it inspired. I want to write the story of how the concept of human rights was turned on its head. I want to warn Canadians about the travesty of justice playing out in commissions across the country. And finally, I want to lead a fight to take back our real civil rights.
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