“The Freest Journalist in Canada”: An Interview with Ezra Levant
by Jerry Gordon (December 2012)
Ezra Levant is not your typical Canadian. He is outspoken and driven to seek out the truth about dangers to free speech and homeland security in our neighbor to the north. Fortunately for Canadians his truth telling appears nightly on his program, The Source on the Sun News Network. His opinion pieces frequently appear as columns in Sun Media publications. Starting in law school in the Province of Alberta in the 1990’s Levant was involved in the Reform Party and the “unite on the right” that morphed into the Canadian Alliance with the Progressive Conservatives. The Party is now led by incumbent PM Stephen Harper. Levant had filed to run in a West Calgary riding as a Conservative candidate in 2002. He withdrew at the behest of party leaders in favor of Stephen Harper who ultimately became Canada’s Prime Minister in 2006. Levant maintains cordial relations with the Harper family and was a volunteer in the Harper 2008 election.
In February 2006, he had the courage to publish the Mohammed cartoons from the Danish newspaper, the Jyllands-Posten, in The Western Standard. That action, while lauded by many Canadians, became the subject of complaints brought before the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission (AHRCC) by Syed Soharwardy of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada (ISCC) and the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities (ECMC). Levant shrewdly requested permission to videotape an interview by an investigator from the AHRCC that he uploaded on YouTube. That may have brought pressure on Soharwardy to withdraw his complaints before both the Commission and the Calgary police. Ultimately, the ECMC compliant, identical to the one filed by Soharwardy and the ISCC, was dismissed by the AHRCC. Levant’s dramatic and successful defense of free speech coincided with complaints brought before the Canadian Human Rights Commission, British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal and the Ontario Human Rights Commission by the Canadian Islamic Congress against McLeans Magazine and columnist Mark Steyn over an excerpt published from Steyn's book America Alone. Levant roundly criticized these various human rights bodies in his 2009 book, Shakedown: How our government is undermining democracy in the name of human rights. In 2011, Shakedown won the Writers’ Trust of Canada and Samara Best Political Book of the last 25 Years competition. His 2010 book Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oil Sands advanced the view that development of the low sulfur Athabascan bitumen deposits would reduce Canada's dependence on imported oil from countries with notorious human rights records. This development would contribute to competition in the world’s energy markets and would be environmentally sound. It was given the National Business Book Award in Canada in 2011. Following the re-election of President Obama in the US in November 2012, Levant proposed an Eight Point plan to “Innoculate Canada’s Economy” from economic problems in the US through paying off of its external debt, directing energy resources by trading with Asia and adopting positive immigration and economic development policies to foster economic growth.
Levant vigorously opposed the return of Canadian Al Qaeda terrorist, Omar Khadr from US detention at Guantanamo Bay in October 2012. Khadr had killed US Amy Special Forces medic Sgt. Christopher Speer in Afghanistan in 2002. Levant criticized PM Harper’s cabinet for consenting to the deal with the Obama Administration - a deal that reduced a 40 year conviction at a 2010 Military Trial in Guantanamo to eight years with seven years of the commuted sentence to be served in a Federal Canadian prison with eligibility for parole in 2013. In his 2011 book, The Enemy Within: Terror, Lies, and the Whitewashing of Omar Khadr, Levant relied heavily on the expert evidence of renowned American forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Welner, presented at the Guantanamo Tribunal. See our June 2012 Iconoclast article on the Sun News The Source presentation of “Welcome Back Khadr?” with Dr. Welner.
Watch this Sun News presentation by Ezra Levant on the return of Omar Khadr to Canada on October 1, 2012:
Jerry Gordon: Ezra Levant, thank you for consenting to this interview.
Ezra Levant: Thank you for inviting me.
Gordon: What was your background in fostering the merger of the Reform Party with the Progressive Conservative Party an antecedent to the Canadian Alliance?
Levant: I don't want to overstate my role in that merger, which was the result of many people working over several years. But it is true that while I was in law school, along with a couple of other conservatives, I helped organize a convention to "unite the right" in Canada -- to lay the groundwork for the merger of the two parties. It was attended by dozens of key conservatives, including Stephen Harper, currently the Prime Minister.
Gordon: You stepped aside in the 2002 contest for the Calgary Southwest riding under pressure from the Canadian Alliance leaders to facilitate the election of Stephen Harper, Canada’s current PM. What relationship did you subsequently have with PM Harper?
Levant: I have kept in touch with Stephen Harper and Mrs. Harper, and with his staff. I occasionally visit them, and in the 2008 election I was a full-time volunteer in the Conservative Party's election headquarters.
Gordon: In the late 1990’s you were an advocate for granting Quebec separatism. Given the renaissance of the Bloc Quebecois do you still hold the same opinion and why?
Levant: I wrote one column in 1995, slightly tongue in cheek, pointing out how the rest of Canada would benefit from Quebec secession. The Bloc Quebecois is nearly defunct federally. The provincial win by the Parti Quebecois was with the slimmest margin, and it is a minority government. No-one believes they have a mandate for secession.
Gordon: What prompted your founding of The Western Standard in 2004?
Levant: The demise of the Alberta Report left a void for a conservative magazine, and I sought to fill it. Given the rise of the Internet, the idea was likely obsolete before it was even started.
Gordon: In 2006, The Western Standard published the Jyllands Posten Danish newspaper cartoons of Mohammed. What was the reaction in Canada that became the subject of your award winning book Shakedown?
Levant: Most of our subscribers loved it - we were the only magazine (or newspaper or TV show) in the country to treat our readers as adults - that is, to show them what the fuss was about for them to make up their own minds about it. The general public reaction was similar - people were sick of political correctness. Most journalists were supportive of us, as they had been restricted from doing the same thing. A small minority of journalists opposed what we did, either out of political correctness or out of a sort of jealousy or embarrassment.
Gordon: How did your actions during the Alberta Human Rights Commission hearings expose the threat to Free Speech by Islamist groups in Canada?
Levant: By videotaping my interrogation and putting the videos on YouTube, and by blogging about the investigation, I was able to shine a light of public scrutiny on a shadowy kangaroo court that was not well known or understood by the public. I sought to denormalize the human rights commissions, and put it on trial in the court of public opinion.
Gordon: Were Islamist groups also behind the complaints brought by the Canadian Islamic Congress before the Canadian Human Rights Commission, British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal and Ontario Human Rights Commission against former Macleans columnist Mark Steyn?
Levant: The complaints against Mark Steyn were brought by the Canadian Islamic Congress, led at the time by Mohamed Elmasry. Different Islamic groups complained about me.
Gordon: Did the cost of your defense during the Alberta Human Rights Commission (AHRC) hearings result in a decision to sell the remaining assets of The Western Standard?
Levant: No. The prosecution did not help The Western Standard financially, but it had been in financial duress even before the AHRC investigation.
Gordon: When did you begin your new career as a daily commentator for the Sun News and how much editorial freedom do you have?
Levant: I have written for the Sun newspapers on and off since 1995. I started up again in the summer of 2010 and have had a daily TV show on Sun News Network since April of 2011. I believe I have tremendous freedom, and in fact I call myself the freest journalist in Canada.
Gordon: In 2008, you testified before the US Congressional Human Rights Coalition about radical Islamist groups’ Lawfare effectively stifling free speech. Do you view UN Human Rights Council Res.16/18 on Combating Religious Intolerance as an attempt to insinuate Shariah blasphemy codes suborning protected speech here and in Canada?
Levant: I believe that the United Nations is a threat to free speech in the U.S. and Canada, because it is dominated by countries that do not respect freedom of speech as much as we do. However, there are other domestic organizations in the U.S. that are also actively undermining free speech. Campus speech codes are one example.
Gordon: Four states in the US (Arizona, Louisiana, Tennessee and Kansas) have adopted anti-Sharia statutes. Would the Harper Government in Ottawa consider adopting something similar at the federal level?
Levant: I can't speak for them of course. I doubt that a stand-alone bill would be proposed like that, unless there was a specific problem of Sharia law taking root. Right now in Canada, there is a growing problem with so-called "honor killings", which is receiving increasing media attention. It is more likely that a pressing problem like that would receive some sort of policy attention.
Gordon: Muslim immigration in Canada has witnessed significant growth under both Liberal and Conservative governments. There is concern in Canada about radical Muslim growth. Do you support a moratorium on immigration from “extremist producing countries”?
Levant: I think we ought to screen immigrants for Canadian values, including non-violence, equality of men and women, pluralism, etc. There are obviously some truly liberal Muslims who wish to flee authoritarian regimes and to adopt a Canadian lifestyle.
Gordon: In your book, The Enemy within: Terror Lies, and the Whitewashing of Omar Khadr, you made a compelling case as to why the Canadian –born al Qaeda Terrorist should not have been returned to Canada. What was your position based on and why in your opinion did the Harper Government consent to his return to Canada in October 2012?
Levant: Omar Khadr is lawfully detained until the war on terror is over. He is analogous to a German soldier captured in 1940: he can be detained until hostilities cease. In addition to that indefinite detention, he was tried and convicted for war crimes including murder, for which a jury gave him 40 years in prison.
The U.S. government pressed Canada to accept a transfer of Khadr after just one year (with paperwork it turned out to be two years). This was clearly against the will of the Conservative government (and of the previous Liberal government) but it was something insisted upon by the Obama Administration.
Gordon: What dangers could there be in Canada if Khadr is released under existing parole laws?
Levant: Khadr is an unrepentant terrorist, he is more fundamentalist than ever, and all of his peers -- his family in Canada, and his friends and connections from Guantanamo Bay -- support terrorism. This makes it quite likely that he will be dangerous. That is also the unrebutted testimony of Dr. Michael Welner, the forensic psychiatrist who testified at Khadr's sentencing hearing.
I do not know if Khadr will engage in violence again. I think it is likely that he will be an Al Qaida poster boy -- fundraising, recruiting, and generally engaging in public relations for Al Qaida, which is more valuable to them.
Gordon: In the wake of the Obama re-election you have advocated that Canada take advantage of its natural energy resources, international trade and immigration policies. Why do you hold these views?
Levant: In short, Canada can no longer count on hitching an economic ride with the U.S. If the American economy continues to stagnate, and if President Obama continues to block an important oil pipeline from Canada, than we must take steps in our own economic self-interest. These include increased trade with Asia, including selling our oil there.
Gordon: Why has the Harper Government been the best friend of Israel in the West?
Levant: Stephen Harper and his cabinet take a principled view of foreign affairs that supports democracies and liberty and countries that share our western values. That makes supporting Israel a natural fit.
Gordon: What should Canadians do to preserve Free Speech?
Levant: Canadians need to adopt an attitude of non-compliance with regards to censorship. At every opportunity, they ought to take steps to incrementally expand the scope of free speech - and to stare down those who would censor them, and who have come to expect obedience and compliance.
Gordon: Ezra Levant thank you for this timely interview.
Levant: Thank you for this opportunity.
Also see Jerry Gordon's collection of interviews, The West Speaks.
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