Ezra Levant is to Canadian political dialogue what The Iron Sheik and Abdullah the Butcher once were to big-time wrestling.
A cartoon figure.
A hateful blowhard.
At least with big-time wrestling, you got the entertainment.
With Levant, what you get are hate, lies, manipulated arguments, ill-advised stunts and his unshackled ego, none of which are entertaining, and much of which is just cruel and ill-informed.
He's a self-styled troublemaker who always seems to find himself in trouble.
The latest: He's being sued for libel by an organization called Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME). It runs campaigns encouraging the boycotting of goods from Israel to protest that state's treatment of Palestinians. The late Liberal MP Warren Allmand served on its board.
Levant used his blog on Rebel Media to compare the group to Nazis and said it was abusing its charitable status to spread anti-Semitic propaganda. He urged his followers to sign a petition (entitled "tax dollars subsidize Jew hatred in Canada") urging the federal government to revoke the group's status as a charity and contribute to a fund that would allow Levant to hire a human rights lawyer to go after it.
Aside from the damaging opinion -- which Levant can probably try to defend by saying it's freedom of expression -- he overplayed his hand and made statements of fact about the group that he cannot possibly justify.
Why? Well, for starters, because CJPME is not and never has been a charity.
It's seeking $100,000 in damages and $20,000 for punitive or exemplary damages, and says Levant must be confusing it with a separate foundation that has no role in its political campaign in support of Palestinian rights.
It's not the first time the Rebel Commander has been found to be reckless with facts. He seems to have made a career of it.
He's lost two expensive libel cases, one last year in which Judge Wendy Matheson of Ontario Superior Court ruled there is "ample evidence before me demonstrating express malice," especially the fact Levant "did little or no fact-checking regarding the posts complained of, either before or after their publication." She found that his "dominant motive in these blog posts was ill will, and that his repeated failure to take even basic steps to check his facts showed a reckless disregard for the truth." Levant was ordered to pay a lawyer $80,000 in damages plus $70,000 in costs. He appealed, lost, and was just assessed another $15,000 in costs.
That's the case in which his lawyer, Iain MacKinnon, mounted an amazing defence. He argued that Levant's readers would know not to take what he writes "at face value" and that he has a "penchant to stir controversy and make outlandish comments at times."
Oh, that is true enough, although it didn't help him in that case.
In another defamation case he lost in 2011, Justice Robert Smith of Ontario Superior Court ruled that Levant "spoke in reckless disregard of the truth and for an ulterior purpose of denormalizing the Human Rights Commission across Canada which makes his statements malicious in that sense." In that one, he had to pay a human rights lawyer $57,000.
Levant has raised the Nazi card before too. In 2010, he wrote a column for Sun Media accusing international financier George Soros of a childhood collaboration with the Nazis. Soros threatened to sue and Sun Media had to issue a retraction and apology.
Two years later, Sun Media had to retract and apologize to the Romani people after Levant broadcast a commentary that he titled "The Jew vs. the Gypsies." Levant opined that Romanis were a group of criminals: "These are gypsies, a culture synonymous with swindlers. The phrase gypsy and cheater have been so interchangeable historically that the word has entered the English language as a verb: he gypped me. Gypsies are not a race. They’re a shiftless group of hobos. They rob people blind. Their chief economy is theft and begging."
That reckless diatribe prompted a remarkable op-ed piece in the National Post co-authored by Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger. They condemned Levant's commentary as a "contemptible screed" and argued that "the time has come for all of us to reject hate and bigotry -- against any group."
Levant apologized for his remarks, stating that he hoped they "will serve as an example of what not to do when commenting on social issues."
But he keeps on doing it. He can't help himself, much like The Iron Sheik always kept going back to the eye gouge.
That's one reason Ezra Levant's career as a commentator has cratered from national television star to tabloid columnist to low-rent self-published blogger. I'd say he deserves his fate, wallowing at the bottom of the commentary barrel among the fellow travellers of right-wing gripe sites like Small Dead Animals and Blazing Cat Fur.
People who are read by almost no one and whose arguments fall apart by the seams.
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