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By Keith Bonnell
Posted January 11, 2008
A controversial conservative commentator was unrepentent going into a Human Rights and Citizenship Commission hearing Friday, 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 Friday with a human rights officers.
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 reasonsable. I have maxiumum 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 sharia 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 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."
By Graeme Morton
Posted Feb 13, 2008
Calgary Muslim leader Syed Soharwardy says he is withdrawing his Alberta Human Rights Commission complaint against former Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant.
The complaint was launched in February, 2006, after the Western Standard and the Jewish Free Press reprinted cartoons from a Danish newspaper that many in the Muslim world felt insulted the Prophet Muhammad. The cartoons sparked violent protests in a number of countries.
"Over the two years that we have gone through the process, I understand that most Canadians see this as an issue of freedom of speech, that that principle is sacred and holy in our society," said Mr. Soharwardy, president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada.
"I believe Canadian society is mature enough not to absorb the messages that the cartoons sent. Only a very small fraction of Canadian media decided to publish those cartoons."
Mr. Levant said he isn't buying Mr. Soharwardy's promise, calling it a "temporary, tactical truce."
"I don't believe him. He thought this would be easy to do, just sic the human rights commission on me and it would be done. But I decided to fight back," Mr. Levant said.
Mr. Levant said he plans to launch a civil lawsuit against Mr. Soharwardy to recover the tens of thousands of dollars he said he has spent battling the complaint.
"I put in at least 100 hours fighting this guy. He may want to run away from this issue, but I'm not going to. His values are out of synch with Canadian society."
Mr. Soharwardy said he had received a number of "hateful" e-mails after the cartoons were published locally. He said he knows some of his supporters will see his decision as backing away from a fight.
"But I hope people see this as a positive action, that it will create better feelings between Muslims and all Canadians," Mr. Soharwardy said. "I'm not giving up working in the front lines. But I feel at this time withdrawing the complaint is the right thing to do."
After the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada filed the complaints against the two publications in 2006, Mr. Soharwardy and Jewish Free Press publisher Richard Bronstein met with a human rights commission mediator in March, 2007. They settled their dispute with a handshake and Mr. Soharwardy withdrew his complaint.