Right-wing provocateur Ezra Levant’s legal woes continue to mount, with two setbacks on the same day.
Late last month, Levant was served with a libel notice from a Montreal-based group that supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) allege that Levant defamed them by comparing them to Nazis and calling them “Jew-baiters.” The group’s statement of claim says the comparison was “false” and “deliberately inflammatory.”
CJPME made headlines last spring when it distributed stickers urging shoppers not to buy products made in Israel. The stickers were found applied to a variety of goods in groceries and hardware stores and liquor outlets across Canada.
Levant’s offending article, headlined “Tax dollars subsidize Jew hatred in Canada,” is still on his website, at therebel.media. In it, he compares the Nazi period, when “street thugs” stood outside Jewish-owned stores with signs saying, “Don’t Buy From Jews,” to CJPME, whom he calls “Jew-baiters” who use “code words like ‘Zionist’ or ‘Israel.’”
“But really, how different is ‘Don’t buy anything from Jews’ versus ‘Don’t buy anything from a country of Jews?’” Levant asked.
The post ends with a petition calling on the federal government to revoke the CJPME’s charitable status. The statement of claim asserts that the CJPME is not a charity.
Last March, the Jewish Defence League wrote the Canada Revenue Agency to request the same thing. The JDL noted that CJPME has a separate fundraising arm, the CJPME Foundation, which is registered as a federal charity that issues tax receipts for donations and lists the same address as the CJPME.
JDL Canada director Meir Weinstein told The CJN this week that his group never heard back from the agency.
In its statement of claim, CJPME says the BDS drive “is not a criticism or attack on Jewish people or upon any person because of their religion or ethnicity,” and that the group “decries hatred, violence, racism and religious targeting of Jewish people in Canada and throughout the world.”
It is seeking $120,000 in damages.
“We’re reviewing the claim and our lawyers will draft and file our defence,” Levant told The CJN via email.
On Dec. 23, the same day the lawsuit was filed, Levant lost an appeal of a 2014 defamation case. The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld an $80,000 libel judgment against Levant that had been brought by Khurrum Awan, now a lawyer practising in Saskatchewan.
The court confirmed a lower court finding that Levant had defamed Awan in several blog posts Levant wrote in 2008 and 2009, in which he called Awan an anti-Semite and a “serial liar.”
The lower court had noted that Levant had done “little or no fact-checking.” The appeals court agreed he had acted with “malice,” which it said defeats the defence of fair comment. It awarded an additional $15,000 in costs to Awan.
Levant had argued that his words were not defamatory because of his reputation for being “provocative and controversial.” His said his remarks were his opinion and constituted fair statement.
The original action arose when Levant live-blogged a hearing at the British Columbia Human Rights Commission over a 2006 Maclean’s cover story that Awan and three other law students alleged was Islamophobic.
In the blog posts, Levant called Awan a “serial liar.” The lower court found that Levant also called Awan, who used to be the youth president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, an anti-Semite because Levant had called then-CIC head Mohammed Elmasry an “anti-Semite-in-chief” and said Awan was Elmasry’s “protégé.”
The appeals court agreed that calling Awan a serial liar could affect his job prospects as a lawyer.
“I’m worried,” Levant wrote after the appeal court’s decision, “that this ruling sets a precedent, and it is now legally dangerous to call out an anti-Semite as anti-Semitic.” He noted that the Ontario Court of Appeal judge who wrote the ruling, Kathryn Feldman, is Jewish.
Levant, a former lawyer, told The CJN that he is applying for leave to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“But as you may know,” he said, “the Supreme Court doesn’t hear most cases.”