Alberta publisher fights for freedom of speech
Published Thursday, August 7, 2008 6:30PM MDT
A local publisher is fighting back with some choice words for the Alberta Human Rights Commission after they subjected him to a 900-day investigation for republishing the controversial cartoons of Muhammad.
Ezra Lavant, a conservative activist and former publisher of Western Standard, was part of an investigation for a discrimination complaint filed against him by the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities.
An earlier complaint was also filed by Calgary Imam Syed Soharwardy. That action was abandoned in spring 2008.
The firestorm came after his magazine republished the Danish cartoons of Muhammad in February 2006.
"We should have the right as Canadians to be unreasonable, to be offensive, to say things that upset people," he said. "The proper response is not government censorship but for people to switch the channel."
It was the first blasphemy case in Canada in more than 80 years.
Almost three years after the complaint was issued, the human rights commission dismissed the action.
Yet Lavant says it was not without its costs.
He estimates the two complaints cost Alberta taxpayers in excess of $500,000. The legal cost to him and the now-defunct Western Standard magazine was $100,000.
"I guess that is a victory, but the bigger question is who cares about what the government says," he said.
While relieved he was acquitted, Lavant is using the entire ordeal to sound the alarm on how these cases threaten freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
He argues the complaints scare editors and reporters into not publishing hot-topic items that open up people to discussion.
"It's rather embarrassing that some members of the Muslim community don't get it," he said. "They are trying to impose Saudi values on Canada. They should adopt our Canadian values of free speech."
Meanwhile, the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities said they are considering appealing the ruling and taking it all the way to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
The local council declined to comment to CTV News because the complaint is still active. They have 30 days to appeal the decision.
Lavant says he welcomes the appeal.
"I hope they do appeal because I want to take this case out of the kangaroo courts of the human rights commission and go in front of a real Canadian court," he said.
With a report from CTV Edmonton's Kevin Armstrong