They are pundits, hear them roar! - Liveblogging Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant at the Justice committee

Join ITQ for full coverage of what is likely to be a standing-room only affair as the Mark Steyn/Ezra Levant Travelling Freedom of Speech Roadshow pops by Parliament Hill for a special hearing on Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Code. The antics get underway at 3:30 pm, so check back for all the liveblogging action.

3:15:04 PM
Greetings, fans of liberty! Or foes, for that matter, or those who haven’t quite made up their mind on the issue — really, the welcome mat is out for all. We’re all about the diversity of opinions here at ITQ, right?

ITQ can report that the room is filling up slowly but surely — a litle bit more slowly than she expected, to be honest, but there’s a good turnout of media types — particularly from her fellow Maclean’s colleagues — and the witnesses are both present and accounted for.

As for the MPs on deck for today, we have Brian Murphy, Ujjal Dosanjh and Dominic LeBlanc for Team Liberal; Serge Menard and Marc LeMay for the Bloc Quebecois, and Joe Comartin rounding the bench off for the opposition; over on the government side, it’s Brent Rathgerber, Stephen Woodworth, Rob Moore, Rick Norlock and Daniel Petit, with Ed Fast in the chair.

Gosh, this is going to be interesting, isn’t it?

3:29:07 PM
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a witness so rosy-cheeked with ebullience and excitement as Ezra Levant since — actually, possibly ever.

3:29:51 PM
And with that, Ed Fast gavels the committee into business — apparently this is the first of an unknown number of hearings slated to be held on the subject of Section 13 — and warns us all to turn off all cell phones and basically behave like good little audience members.

With that, he hands the microphone over to Ezra Levant, who can’t grab it fast enough — he’s just so pleased to be here, you guys. Especially at a multipartisan committee, because, as he notes, free speech is not a partisan issue.

3:32:21 PM
Onto the prepared remarks — somehow, ITQ suspects that the full text will be available within minutes, so she’s just going to cover the highlights before we get to the good part — the Q&A session.

3:33:14 PM
A quick recap of the surprise decision by a CHRT panelist earlier this year, in which he wrote that the section in question may, in fact, be unconstitutional, and he then moves onto Richard Warman — the “rich white lawyer” – hardly, Levant points out, the archetypical minority that the CHRC ostensibly purports to represent and defend – responsible for so many S13 complaints.

The whole thing quickly turns into what is, to any regular reader of his screeds, a familiar diatribe against the aforementioned complainant, and, indirectly, the CHRC itself for previously employing him, and now “paying his expenses”.

3:36:05 PM
Wifi hacking! Scullduggery! More claims that ITQ doesn’t believe have been conclusively proven other way — yes, that’s true; Levant notes that the “official” status of the subsequent investigation is “unsolved”, but claims that the CHRC remains the main suspects.

Instead of cleaning up this “filthy mess”, Jennifer Lynch — the chair, who, he notes, was appointed by the Conservatives — *defends it*.

3:38:46 PM
And now, over to Steyn, who borrows from Philip K. Dick – with attribution, bien sur – to describe the CHRC’s battle against “precrimes” — and “secret trials” — including that against Marc Lemire — which remained behind closed doors until he and Maclean’s Magazine stood up for freedom, transparency and justice for all.

3:41:18 PM
Free speech is important. That’s pretty much the Steyn message du jour, although with more adjectives and subclauses, more slams against Richard Warman – who he characterizes as a self-appointed “Hatefinder General” running his own private inquisition.

3:42:25 PM
Nobody in Canada, Steyn avers, read the last post that merited a “conviction” under the CHRC — and it’s all due to the “Nazi fetishists” at the commission that such speech garnered any public attention at all. The CHRC should not be more insulated from responsibility for its actions than the RCMP – uh, in practice? Even that would be pretty darned insulated, if recent events are any indication — and parliament should jolly well assert its oversight authority, and defend “real human rights”. Tally ho, pip pip! (Sorry, sorry, the accent got to me.)

3:45:49 PM
Hmmmm. One of Jason Kenney’s operatives — the soi disant force of darkness Alykhan Velshi — is in the audience. I wonder if he’s got a copy of America Alone to be signed.

3:47:24 PM
And — questions! First up, Brian Murphy, who wanders around his question for a while — and wonders if either of the witnesses believe there should be *any* limit on speech at all. He points to some cases that the tribunal has dealt with, some of which, he avers “shock the conscience of the Canadian people” and even crossed the line into criminal speech. Do the witnesses believe in the Criminal Code? “Let’s not truck with the administrivial aspects — let’s get to the heart of the matter: Should there be limits on speech?”

Levant notes that there *are* laws against some kinds of speech — fraud, uttering a threat, that sort of thing – but that laws against hate speech penalize ideas.

He also gives a pretty decent defence of his position — which incorporates some fancy legal citing, although honestly, I’d *expect* both of these witnesses to be able to argue their respective cases in their sleep by this point.

Steyn also agrees with him, and points out that, although the excerpts Murphy declined to read the full text were, indeed, offensive, referring to the Jewish lobny and Hitler, he believes that it shouldn’t be against the law to “champion repellant ideas”. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and hatred is “part of what it means to be human”. Why, even Jennifer Lynch, he notes, seems to harbour a “teeny bit” of hatred towards he and his co-witness, which produces light chuckles from the crowd.

3:54:27 PM
Over to Serge Menard – hey, he’s still here! I thought he’d retired – and quizzes Levant on the difference between the CHRC and the CHRT, and notes that as far as *he* knows, an administrative tribunal can’t declare a section of an act to be unconstitutional. Er, snap? Levant acknowledges that these tribunal members have *declared*, but not struck down the law — “they’re throwing it back to you, sir, because it’s so illegal.”

Menard wonders what the position of the Attorney General would be, since he would have to provide an opinion, but asks the witnesses what they want, exactly. The section itself to be abolished? Or are they more concerned by how certain individuals have acted? If people had acted in good faith, and the employees of the commission didn’t have “the defects” that the witnesses have attributed to them, should the section still be removed?

Steyn reminds him that the section itself is “appallingly written” – oh, if we apply that standard to every bill, we’ll end up with nothing but the Railways Act by the time we’re done — and claims that “opportunistic employees” of the CHRC have been able to “drive a stagecoach” through the limits.

Levant, meanwhile, acknowledges that a pure libertarian would be just as adamantly opposed to criminal provisions against hate speech, he thinks a good position for the committee to take would be to repeal the section in question, and hold a “forensic investigation” into the commission itself.

Who, Menard wonders? The Auditor General? Levant thinks that’s a jim dandy idea, and promises to ask her, but Menard — who is probably the most effective MP on this, or any other committee when it comes to questioning a witness — seems sceptical. “I see your passion,” he tells Levant – but he thinks that the witnesses are more angry at the individuals than the legislation.

4:02:34 PM
Joe Comartin tries to get back to the point of the hearing, whatever that is, and notes that the targets of the scattershot allegations being hurled by the witnesses will likely have the opportunity to give *their* side of the story; would Levant and Steyn be willing to come back once they’ve done so? You bet they will, Levant promises.

4:05:59 PM
Moving on, Comartin asks whether Levant — and, presumably, Steyn – would support hate laws that ban speech related to genocide, from the Holocaust to Rwanda, and the answer is — somewhat unclear, actually. It sounds like a no from Levant, at least — he agrees with the Jewish community of Berlin, who supported the publication of Mein Kampf. He then goes into a long analogy about anti-gay propaganda, and the importance of exposing hatred to the light, but Comartin doesn’t seem to be buying it: publicizing Mein Kampf, he points out, did nothing to slow the rise of Hitler, or Naziism. Mark Steyn reminds him that Germany had anti-hate speech laws too — ‘it was kind of a proto-Canada,’ he notes, prompting snickers from the media row, albeit likely for different reasons.

4:11:17 PM
That’s it for the opposition for this round; it’s now over to the government, and Rob Moore, who asks about the Moon Report. Levant tells the committee that Moon – despite his strong ties to the human rights community – actually endorsed the notion of removing responsibility for Section 13 from the commission.

4:15:38 PM
More fairly general questions from Moore — what’s the difference between being tried in court and being the subject of a complaint before the commission? What kind of impact did a 900 day hearing have on his ability to “put food on the table”? (Wait, It wasn’t a 900 day hearing; the process itself lasted that long, but not the hearing, if ITQ was following when Levant ran down the timeline earlier today.) Less than if they hadn’t been smart, feisty, politically connected warriors for truth, that’s for sure, is the upshot.

4:19:29 PM
Back to the opposition bench, and Ujjal Dosanjh, who also wants to debate the nature of hate crime from a philosophical nature; he reads various scurrilous phrases from Jim Keegstra, and challenges Levant over whether he should have been convicted for his speech. No, Levant tells him — he should have been fired from his job and “publicly disapproved of” — but he — and Steyn, as it turns out — disagree with the conviction. “We stray into very dangerous territory,” he warns, when we penalize people for speech.

And that’s the debate in a nutshell, isn’t it?

4:23:31 PM
It looks like Marc LeMay may be the last MP at bat, and he asks the witnesses if they agree with the Taylor decision, but notes that it doesn’t really matter, since “we’re stuck with it”, as far as precedent. He doesn’t seem to realize, however, that Levant and Steyn *want* the bill to be “repealed or amended”; he points out, however, that the same decision found Section 2(d) to be an important provision of the charter. Yeah, this is trickier without a copy of the ruling — and the Charter of Rights — at hand.

4:26:42 PM
“I have a big problem with you,” says the increasingly truculent, and possibly slightly misinterpretred LeMay — he just thinks what the witnesses are demanding is “too broad”. In other words, in his view, it’s not as easy as just pulling that one section out, and the rest remains intact.

4:29:26 PM
There is exactly one staffer sitting on the opposition side of the room. On the government side? Six. What that means is left as an exercise to the reader.

4:30:35 PM
One more five minute round — and it goes to Brent Rathgerber, who notes that it *is* necessary to find a balance between protection against the incitement of violence, and human — or, as he prefers to describe them, civil — rights. Levant, who is, at least, ideologically consistent — that we should never criminalize ideas, and Steyn agrees.

One more question — this one about costs, and whether the imbalance in support for complainants versus respondents is partially responsible for creating the dysfunctional process at hand, a thesis with which the witnesses, not surprisingly, agree wholeheartedly. “The least we can do,” Steyn suggests, is respect the principle of fairness. Quite so, good sir. Quite so.

And — hey, that’s it! At least, unless the witnesses scrum, which seems like a distinct possibility – at least once they make it through the army of wellwishers and supporters that have surrounded the table.

That’s it for ITQ, however. Did we all learn and share and hug and grow? Feel free to continue the debate in the comments!

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.