Should I be prosecuted for calling human rights commissions “crazy”?

Today was the day I was scheduled to be prosecuted for one charge of being “publicly discourteous or disrespectful to a Commissioner or Tribunal Chair of the Alberta Human Rights Commission” and two charges that my “public comments regarding the Alberta Human Rights Commission were inappropriate and unbecoming and that such conduct is deserving of sanction.”

Because two years ago I wrote a newspaper editorial calling Alberta’s human rights commission “crazy”.

Here’s a video I made about this prosecution last year:

This time, the prosecution was going to be at the hands of the Law Society, as if writing a political editorial is some sort of professional misconduct on my part (I’m a non-practicing lawyer).

Well, after the Law Society prosecutor looked things over, he called my lawyers and said he didn’t want to go through with it. I don’t blame him. There have been 24 previous nuisance complaints filed against me with the Law Society, all filed by my political opponents. And every one of them has been thrown out. Why waste his time prosecuting these ones?

So we’re still meeting at the Law Society today. But it’s to ask the Law Society to ignore these latest nuisance complaints against me. I haven’t worked at a law firm in 13 years and I don't live in Alberta; I had applied to resign as a lawyer years ago — I just refused to do so until all the nuisance complaints were gone, so I wasn’t leaving under a cloud.

Will the Law Society listen to their own prosecutor, ignore these two latest nuisance complaints, and let me get back to being a journalist? Or will they insist on having a hearing about my newspaper editorial two years ago?

We’re about to find out!

Below is the statement that I read out at the hearing moments ago. Let me know what you think.

This whole exercise is designed by my political opponents to waste my time and money — as they’ve done 24 times before. If you feel moved to help chip in to my legal defence fund, I’d be grateful, you can do so by clicking here — thanks.

Here’s my statement today:

I’ve been a member of the Law Society of Alberta for sixteen years but I only worked for a law firm for just over one year: after I briefly ran for Parliament in Calgary Southwest in 2002, until I started the Western Standard news magazine in 2003. Those two things – politics and journalism – are what I do. I don’t practice law.

I’m glad I went to law school and I use my legal training almost every day, but I use it to do politics or journalism, not as a lawyer. I haven’t had a client in years.

While I was at the firm, I received no complaints about my professional work. After I stopped practicing law, I kept renewing my Law Society membership and paying my dues, out of habit and sentimentality. Trouble is, by remaining a member of the Law Society, even as a non-practicing lawyer, I gave my political opponents free shots at me through the profession’s complaints procedure.

Starting in 2008, weeks after I launched my political and journalistic campaign to reform Canada’s human rights commissions, I became the target of a series of nuisance complaints to the Law Society. None of the complaints had anything to do with my work as a lawyer – I wasn’t working as a lawyer then. None of the complaints were filed by clients – I didn’t have any clients then. And almost all of the complaints were made by people with no connection to Alberta.

They were filed by political activists who had found a free way to take a run at me because of my politics and journalism. I don’t believe that’s what the Law Societies are about, or what the Code of Professional Conduct is about. But those nuisance complaints were jammed into the catch-all heading of “conduct unbecoming” a lawyer.

I acknowledge that there are some things that could amount to conduct unbecoming for a lawyer, even a non-practicing lawyer. Being convicted of a crime might be one example. But having strong opinions shouldn’t be. Nor should expressing them. Which is good, considering how many opinionated politicians are non-practicing members of the Law Society. Like Premiers Alison Redford, Jim Prentice and Rachel Notley.

It’s been eight years since the first nuisance complaint was filed against me. And as of today, fully 26 complaints have been filed against me, all by political activists. They prefer a Law Society complaint to a letter to the editor, because Law Society complaints compel me to hire a lawyer to defend myself, and to go through a meticulous process, consuming my time and money. And they prefer a Law Society complaint to a civil lawsuit against me, because when their complaints are eventually thrown out, as the 24 resolved complaints have been, they aren’t on the hook for my legal costs. The Law Society of Alberta has become a magnet for every nuisance litigant, crank and shakedown artist in the country. One Ontario left-wing activist – probably living not too far from where I live in Toronto – actually published an online template for how to file complaints against me here in Alberta. Just like me, the Law Society is forced to deal with these tactics.

Every complaint against me has been dismissed so far. But the trouble is, by the time each complaint had been dismissed, another one had been filed. So there has been no free moment to resign from the Law Society in eight years, and I wasn’t going to resign in the face of a complaint. That’s my one complaint: the Law Society has been fair in their dealings with me, and they’ve obviously supported my freedom of speech every single time. But they’ve been slow about it, usually taking more than a year to throw out political complaints.

To my surprise, after eight years of dismissing nuisance complaints without even a hearing, a panel of Benchers recently decided to refer the last two complaints against me to a prosecutor. I really couldn’t believe it – at first I thought it was a typo. The complaints, as you can see, center around a newspaper column in which I called the Alberta human rights commission “crazy”. In a newspaper’s editorial section. We were going to have a full hearing about that.

The Alberta human rights commission is crazy. I know, because I lived through one of their crazier prosecutions – a 900-day blasphemy case against me for the grave sin of publishing the Danish cartoons of Mohammed in a news magazine. But there is no such thing as the counterfeit human right not to be offended. That’s a crazy idea.

I should mention that Syed Soharwardy, one of the imams who filed that human rights commission complaint against me, also filed a Law Society complaint against me too. Both were dismissed.

I believe these last Law Society complaints are a violation of my Charter rights of freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of conscience. I am confident that they would be dismissed, either by a Law Society panel or a court of appeal. The law in this area is well developed.

It was strange to me that after eight years of standing up for my freedom of speech, a panel of Benchers wanted a hearing. I’ve skimmed through the other disciplinary hearings at the Law Society – lawyers stealing money from client trust funds; lawyers making legal settlements without their client’s permission; lawyers too drunk to do their jobs. Real cases of professional conduct issues. And in the middle of that, a hearing because I called the human rights commission crazy.

Well, look. I’d love to have that hearing, and win, and set a strong precedent for freedom of speech – not just for myself, but so that in the future, no lawyer, either on the right or the left, has to go through the expensive hassle of a multi-year investigation of their political opinions.

I just stared down Premier Notley, whose office directed the sheriff to kick my reporters out of the Legislature. The Premier has backed down. This was an important freedom of speech issue, that we fought on behalf of, but also for the benefit of all journalists. Yet I have no doubt that a Law Society complaint against me is coming, alleging that my comments during this latest fight with the Premier weren’t lawyerly. This merry go round is not going to stop.

To be frank, the cost and inconvenience aside – I was looking forward to a freedom of speech fight with the Law Society. But a few weeks ago the Law Society raised the idea of resolution without the necessity of a hearing. I was pretty suspicious – what was the catch? Would I be asked to say that the Alberta human rights commission is a great bunch of guys, totally not crazy, really really sane? Or maybe that I shouldn’t have written my newspaper column about it? But that’s not the proposal. It appears all counsel want resolution without a contested hearing which, on their advice, I am prepared to accept.

I haven’t lived in Alberta for years, and I haven’t been at a law firm in over a decade. I actually submitted an application to resign from the Law Society years ago – but on the condition that there are no complaints outstanding against me. So, I’ve been waiting.

I’m a 16-year member of the Law Society without a single disciplinary action on my record. I’d prefer to remain an inactive lawyer, but I accept, that in this situation, it makes little sense for me to remain a member of the Law Society, knowing that the political harassment will continue.

I’ll miss the collegiality of being a lawyer – a little bit. But I won’t miss the nuisance complaints. And I promise I’ll keep fighting for freedom of speech every day in my real job as a journalist and political activist.

I think I know what the Law Society staff wants to do after eight years of nuisance complaints. They want to stop being forced to read my newspaper columns and watch my videos as part of their job. But you’re the deciders here. Let me know what you think is in the interests of the profession, the province, and the Constitution.

Contribute Spread the word

Sign up to receive updates from Ezra on the fight for freedom of speech in Canada: