Apologies are coming fast and furious from Ezra Levant and Sun News Network. Just this week, there have been apologies for comments made about the publication Vancouver Observer and for a rant directed against the Roma people. Our parliamentary reporter Karl Nerenberg, who has been closely following the story of Roma refugees in Canada, has uncovered information about just how close Levant actually came to facing prosecution for hate crimes over his comments about the Roma. The office of the Attorney General of Ontario was contacted for comment on this story, but did not reply by deadline.
And so, Sun News' resident bad boy and low-rent, ersatz Rush Limbaugh, Ezra Levant, has apologized.
On Tuesday, we reported in this space that Levant had delivered an on-air mea culpa to the Roma people and anyone he may have hurt in his hateful screed of September 2012.
His own title for that screed was the quite tasteless: "The Jew versus the Gypsies."
Levant's motive, it appears, was not a sudden conversion to reasonableness.
Nor was it sincere contrition that he had deeply wounded decent and good people by showering the "Gypsies" with the kind of ugly epithets that you would normally find only in the most virulent hatemonger's bag of tricks.
Levant apologized, it seems, because he was facing possible charges under article 319 of the Criminal Code of Canada: "public incitement and willful promotion of hatred."
Police were ready to charge Levant
We now know that Levant came within a hair's breadth of being charged, and was only spared by the indulgence of Ontario's Deputy Attorney General, Patrick Monahan, and Attorney General, John Gerretsen.
It's entirely possible that Levant's belated on-air apology was part of the price for Monahan's and Gerretsen's clemency.
Here is what seems to have happened.
After Levant's on-air outburst last September, members of Toronto's Roma community went to the Toronto police to file a hate crime complaint.
The police undertook an investigation and quite a few months later recommended to the Toronto regional Crown Prosecutor’s office that it charge Levant under Section 319.
The regional office agreed with the police, and prepared a dossier.
If we were dealing here with any other crime, that would be enough. Levant would be facing charges now.
There is a special provision in Article 319, however. It says: "No proceeding ... shall be instituted without the consent of the Attorney General."
So the regional office went up the line to the civil servant who heads the Ministry of the Attorney General (Monahan) and to the Ministry's ultimate, political boss, Gerretsen.
In making their final decision, Monahan and Gerretsen had to take into account legal and operational issues -- in other words, does the Crown have a good chance of winning this case? -- as well as something the law vaguely terms as the "public interest."
On the latter grounds, the undefined "public interest," it seems Monahan advised Gerretsen that the Crown should not proceed with charges against Levant.
Was the Ontario Attorney General intimidated by Levant and Sun News?
It appears that Monahan was worried that a Levant trial would become something of a "media circus."
The Deputy Attorney General was, to all appearances, deterred by Levant's well-known reputation for being a loud-mouthed bully, and didn't want the Ontario government getting into a public spitting match with Sun News' professional ranter.
So Levant, ironically, was saved by his own notoriety and unsavory reputation.
If the crime had been committed by some obscure, street-corner hate-spewer would Monahan and Gerretson have shown similar scruples?
We will never know for sure.
And did Sun News and Levant get wind of the potential charges, and decide that discretion was the better part of valour? Did they decide that an apology was preferable to the risk of prosecution?
We cannot be sure.
We can be quite sure, however, that, as part of their investigation, the Toronto police would have had to question the notional perpetrator of the hate crime and his employer.
Levant and his Sun News bosses almost certainly had a pretty clear idea of what the police and prosecutors were thinking.
Levant's hate speech did have a negative impact on public opinion
To the Roma who launched the complaint, and their friends, it seems a bit outrageous and unfair that a person such as Levant should be spared simply because he is a well-known media 'personality.'
Despite his near-buffoon status, Levant is still capable of striking politically-motivated fear in the hearts of senior decision makers.
It is also frustrating to the Roma that the investigation of a case where the facts were entirely clear should have taken so long.
On the other side of the ledger, the negative of impacts of Levant's association of all Roma with a few, isolated instances of petty criminality are undeniable.
The Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney, constantly and cleverly played the 'Roma = crime = trouble' card during his campaign to get his refugee reform bill, C-31, through Parliament as fast as possible.
It is now the law of the land.
Still, the Roma people, and all Canadians concerned about basic human rights, can at least take comfort from the fact that responsible officials who looked at what Levant said and its potential impact were convinced the Sun News on-air bully had clearly committed a hate crime.
Sun News and Levant also know that -- ergo the apology.
The CRTC is still considering Sun's application to get must-carry status on Canada's cable system. Sun is losing money as an optional service, and argues it should be categorized among the basic, necessary services that cable provides.
Should the CRTC decide that the promulgation of hate propaganda is a necessary service?
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