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Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

It's time for Ezra Levant to apologize or explain his hateful Roma commentary

| January 3, 2013
Ezra Levant

It's 2013, and it's time for Sun News Network commentator Ezra Levant to either apologize for or explain his comments on Sept. 5, 2012, about the Roma.

Now, Levant appears to be the kind of young man for whom a phrase like "never apologize, never explain," would take on mantra-like authority. Nevertheless, it's time, or certain conclusions about Levant's views about the Roma people will be impossible to avoid.

More important, the same unhappy conclusions will be unavoidable in the case of the Sun News Network, which continues to employ Levant.

Gerald Caplan nicely summarized the situation up to now on his Rabble.ca blog on Christmas Eve, observing, "somehow, it's okay to utter the most viciously racist slurs about the Roma that would be wholly unacceptable if said about any other group on earth. Ezra Levant of the Sun News Network demonstrated as much recently with an astonishing hatemongering attack on the entire Roma people."

While Sun News Network has done its best to suppress it, the Levant clip, which has been described as "nearly nine minutes of on-air racist hate speech," can still be heard in audio format. The Toronto Police are said to be investigating the commentary under the hate speech provisions of the Criminal Code.

For its part, Sun News Network has apologized for Levant's hatemongering and attempted to wash his vicious screed down the corporate Memory Hole.

However, it’s hard to take the Sun News apology very seriously when it stated, "it was not the intent of Sun News, or anyone employed by Sun News, to promote negative stereotypes about the Roma people." (Emphasis added.) They didn't know Levant worked for them, then? They didn't hear what he said about the Roma? Please!

So when Sun News Network says, "we regret our error in these broadcasts, and we apologize unreservedly to the Roma people and to you, our viewers," that needs to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt by everyone concerned.

As for the perpetually loudmouthed Levant, he has uncharacteristically remained absolutely silent on this topic. Not only has he not apologized, he seems to have said nothing at all on the subject to anyone.

Now, I have to pause here to note that I do have a dog in this fight. I have been excoriated on the air by Levant for refusing to show up for a mugging on his Sun News Network program after I criticized his use on the air of a Spanish obscenity normally translated as "f**k your mother."

In a June 26, 2012, segment of his Sun News Network program, The Source, which continues to be aired by the network via the Internet even as it seeks more generous licensing provisions from its friends in the Harper Government, Levant complained that I wouldn't even respond to his emails.

"Now, I’ve invited Climenhaga onto this show several times," Levant told his listeners. "He refuses to come on. I’ve sent him a list of questions, asking about his beef with me. He won’t even answer. … not even the courtesy to reply to me." (You can listen to the entire thing here if you have a strong stomach and high resistance to boredom.)

"He's not just a snitch and a bully, he's awfully thin skinned too," Levant concluded of me. "Big union boss, he can dish it out, but you can't take it, eh?"

The title of this segment of his program was, "You want to silence me?" The implication, obviously, is that in Levant's case that can't be done.

So, seeing as I had Levant's email address, courtesy of his missives to me in my role as a "big union boss" (I wish!), I wrote him and asked him if he would comment about his characterizations of the Roma people and the Sun News Network's apology for his conduct. I even gave him a list of questions so that he would have the opportunity to ponder his replies. All the emails appear to have been received.

And you know what? Levant, this great free speaker who can’t be silenced, didn't even give me the courtesy of a reply!

So I think we can conclude that, in fact, Levant can be silenced -- although not, obviously, by decent Canadians who think he should act with some civility as well as stop hatemongering on the air.

Since he didn't answer my questions, or even respond, I am really in no position to say what silenced the relentlessly noisy and noisome commentator, but it's hardly beyond the realm of possibility, is it, that it was Sun News Network hoping to get the controversy to go away so it can get on with its bid for a better license and a larger reach to more Canadians to continue spreading Levant's ugly views?

And small of me though it may be, it's quite satisfying to see Levant revealed as a bully, thin-skinned and a hypocrite who can dish it out but can't take it -- just as I suspected.

But the bigger issue is Levant's continued silence to all questioners about his hatemongering against the Roma.

Surely there is a line that can't be crossed in Canadian public discourse and, unlike the case with his casual obscenities and lame banana jokes, this time Levant has crossed it.

So the time has come for him to apologize, sincerely and categorically. He can take comfort from the knowledge that a sincere apology, when you know in your heart you have gone too far, shows you as a bigger person and is good for the soul.

But if Levant will not apologize, Sun News Network needs to take more appropriate measures than a self-evidently insincere apology of its own or it will be fair for Canadians to conclude that it supports and endorses his hatemongering, and intends to continue enabling it.

In that case, we really need to ask ourselves as citizens if we ought to encourage Sun News Network's ability to broadcast on-air racist hate speech with more generous licensing provisions.

Speak up, Mr. Levant!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.



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