Free Speech Activist Warns: It May Soon Be Illegal in Canada to Call Someone Antisemitic
It may soon be illegal in Canada to publicly label someone an antisemite, a conservative Canadian pundit and free speech activist warned in an op-ed on Wednesday.
Writing for CIJ News, Ezra Levant, who was sued in late 2014 for defamation by Khurrum Awan — the former youth president of the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) — said that one of the reasons he lost the suit was due to the judge’s ruling that “calling Awan an antisemite was defamatory.”
In previous public comments and blog postings, Levant had accused Awan of antisemitism — asserting that the CIC, during Awan’s tenure, “was led by a notorious antisemite, Mohamed Elmasry. Elmasry went on national TV to declare that any adult in Israel is a legitimate target for terrorism. The CIC even called for the legalization of antisemitic terrorist groups.”
Awan denied being an antisemite and claimed he was unaware of antisemitic conduct on the part of the CIC. The judge accepted his arguments, and ruled in his favor against Levant.
On Tuesday, Levant appeared before the Ontario Court of Appeal in an effort to have the ruling overturned. “My lawyer made many points, but a key one was this: if the trial judge’s ruling is not overturned, there will be a great chill over free speech in Canada,” he wrote.
During the appeal, Levant wrote, his lawyer used “a hypothetical example of a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Would it really be defamatory to call a member of the KKK racist, if he denied he was racist? Even though he admitted it’s fair to call the KKK itself racist?”
The implications of not being allowed to publicly call out antisemites are significant, he wrote, explaining:
There aren’t a lot of KKK activists on university campuses these days. But there are a lot of pro-Hamas activists on campus, demonizing Israel and Jews, denying the last Holocaust even while calling for the next one. If the precedent against me stands, any Jewish student or any righteous Gentile who dares to call out antisemites could be hauled before a court, and put through eight years of lawfare…This trial judgment doesn’t just affect my rights. It’s a setback for freedom for everyone — especially for activists trying to fight back against antisemitism. Imagine not being able to use that word to describe activists with antisemitic groups.
In the brief prepared for the appeal, his lawyer stated: “Mr. Levant is an outspoken and strong advocate for free speech. He has strong opinions on a variety of topics. He sometimes uses colorful language or even a derisive tone…But his right to express those opinions and comments, however wrong-headed, outrageous, or extreme they may be must be protected under defamation law.”
Levant, a controversial media personality in Canada, is the founder of political and social commentary website The Rebel Media, where the op-ed — “Will it still be legal to call someone ‘anti-Semitic’ in Canada?” — first appeared.