Book review: Commissions threaten free speech 

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

By Ezra Levant

McClelland & Stewart

232 pages

Did you know it's a human right to work at McDonald's and not wash your hands? Or to be a rape counsellor even though you're a male-to-female transexual and victims are uncomfortable talking to you? Or that it's a hate crime to offend the religious sensibilities of Islamist zealots?

All these and more are human rights, according to Canadian human rights commissions. If they're not worthy of a conviction, they're at least worthy of a Kafkaesque prozess that can bankrupt respondents even before handing down a ruling.

Human rights commissions and their associated woes are the subjects of Ezra Levant's book, Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights. A victim of such tribunals himself, he outlines in deeply-researched detail how human rights commissions in various provinces are threatening actual rights such as public health, free speech and operating a business without pot smoke flying into your face.

If you're a liberal and you hear the name Ezra Levant, there's an immediate compulsion to just wave him off. "He's a loudmouth blowhard," you may be thinking, "A conservative douchebag." That's irrelevant here. In this book he puts aside all his tribal affiliations and expresses genuine concern for Canadians' right to free speech - and for all Canadians, from Spartacists to Western Separatists.

He sicked on human rights commissions like a pit bull after he was taken to one himself. His crime? Re-printing the Muhammad cartoons in his newspaper the Western Standard, in order to provide context for a news story about those same cartoons.

His complainant? Syed Soharwardy, a radical Muslim cleric who wants to bring Shariah law to Canada. A man who blasted Christians who were helping out with tsunami relief efforts, charging that such groups were kidnapping Indonesian children.

This man claimed to be personally offended by Levant's decision to publish the cartoons, and after the police refused to arrest him, he turned to the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission (AHRCC) and hand-scrawled a complaint using the Koran as his legal basis.

That complaint touched off a prozess that wound up costing Levant about $100,000 in legal fees. Government-appointed interrogators asked him what his intention was by printing the cartoons. Soharwardy, in accordance with commission guidelines, didn't have to pay a cent.

Naturally, "blowhard" that he is, Levant fought back with research - much of which he has documented in Shakedown, which stands as the single biggest PR fallout the human rights commissions will ever experience. It's a vicious, nonpartisan polemic that every Canadian should read. It comes from the mouth of a journalist and lawyer who took the brunt of a commission's punishing process and set out to keep it from happening to any Canadian ever again.

He tells of how a woman with a skin disease didn't want to wash her hands while working at McDonald's because it hurt. McDonald's, as a corporation, needs to adhere to the strictest health standards - so after putting her on medical leave, giving her money for treatment and finally concluding that things wouldn't work out, they let her go. She filed a complaint against the restaurant and a commission gave her $50,000 - solidifying the human right not to wash your hands while in the employ of the service industry.

He tells of Gator Ted's, a restaurant in Hamilton frequented by an obnoxious man who bragged about having medical marijuana. He'd smoke it in the restaurant's door and flaunt it as though he was an enemy of the state. The restaurant owner told him to stop smoking it near the door - and he got slapped with a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC). The owner has since tried to settle the complaint, which would ultimately mean allowing the obnoxious pothead to smoke there - a violation of Ontario liquor laws, which could shut down his restaurant. The OHRC has thus allowed an obnoxious, inconsiderate stoner to put a venerable restaurant owner between a rock and a hard place.

These are just two of the many cases that will leave slapmarks on your forehead if you read this book. Human rights commissions in Canada have clearly devolved into fascistic, punishing interrogations that are literally making up human rights on a case-by-case basis. Even if you don't get convicted, Levant makes it clear that the commission prozess is punishing enough. He's the loudest advocate for free speech in Canada and everyone, journalists, lawyers, and the public alike, ought to be infuriated by what he has to say.

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