Defiant Levant republishes cartoons

Complaint from Muslims sparks rights hearing

Keith Bonnell, Canwest News Service  Published: Saturday, January 12, 2008

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Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant holds a copy of the magazine that contained cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammad, in his office in Calgary, Feb. 13, 2006. Patrick Price/Reuters Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant holds a copy of the magazine that contained cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammad, in his office in Calgary, Feb. 13, 2006.

A controversial conservative commentator was unrepentant going into a Human Rights and Citizenship Commission hearing yesterday, using his Web site to republish the same cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that got him into trouble in the first place.

"Contriteness implies that you've done something wrong for which you need to apologize or atone," Ezra Levant said moments before his 90-minute meeting with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission in Calgary.

"I have not done anything wrong."

Mr. Levant's dispute with some members of Alberta's Muslim community became even more personal, as the head of a Calgary Muslim group said he now fears for the safety of his family due to "lies" Mr. Levant has been spreading about him.

The commission is investigating Mr. Levant's decision two years ago, as publisher of the Western Standard, to print a series of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

The same cartoons had already ignited violent protests and death threats from Muslims around the world after the images appeared in a Danish newspaper.

Syed Soharwardy, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, filed a complaint after the Western Standard published the cartoons, which included a Muslim man with a bomb-shaped turban, and the commission is now investigating.

Mr. Levant, his lawyer and his wife attended a 90-minute meeting yesterday with a human rights officer.

Mr. Levant, who occasionally writes for the National Post, said he was asked about his rationale for publishing the cartoons.

"I don't need to be reasons-able. I have maximum rights of free speech," he said later.

"I have the right to publish this for the most offensive reason, for the most unreasonable reasons."

The commission's director said it would hear from both sides and decide whether the complaint should be dismissed, go to an arbitrator, or go to a full human rights complaint hearing.

"We don't talk about individual complaints until they get to the public stage," said Marie Riddle, the commission's director.

For Mr. Soharwardy, the issue has become intensely personal.

He fired off a letter to Calgary police yesterday, complaining about statements made by Mr. Levant on his blog that refer to the Muslim leader as a "radical, Saudi-trained imam who has publicly called for shariah law to be imposed in Canada."

"I have asked him what kind of training did I get in Saudi Arabia?" an angry Mr. Soharwardy said from Calgary.

He said Mr. Levant has also called him anti-Semitic, despite the fact Mr. Soharwardy's mosque celebrates Hannukah with the local Jewish community.

"These people have the intent to incite hate against Muslims," Mr. Soharwardy said.

"God forbid if somebody reads from his Web site -- [if ] any fanatic reads it -- and he attacks me, who's responsible?

"If any crime [is] committed against me or my family, I will hold Mr. Ezra Levant responsible."

Calgary police said they were actively investigating the complaint, as well as another complaint Mr. Soharwardy made in December.

That complaint centred on comments made on a blog connected to the Western Standard Web site.

The comments, from an unknown user, included "There is no such thing as innocent Muslims," and "They must all be killed. All of them."

"The file is still open and we are still actively pursuing it," Insp. Bob Couture said.

Mr. Levant called his appearance before the human rights commission "an interrogation.""To me, this is offensive," he said.

"A secular government bureaucracy has essentially been hijacked by a radical Muslim imam," he said. "It's being used to further his fatwa against these cartoons."

"We have a great tradition of free speech in Canada," he said.

"My freedom to publish a cartoon that some radical Muslim imam doesn't like, well that's the free West for ya."


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