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Douglas Christie challenged laws limiting the expression of views most people found reprehensible. (KEVIN FRAYER/The Canadian Press)
Douglas Christie challenged laws limiting the expression of views most people found reprehensible. (KEVIN FRAYER/The Canadian Press)

Obituary

Free-speech zealot Doug Christie defended anti-Semites, white supremacists Add to ...

“We both felt we would make our commitment every day. We weren’t going to do it for church and state, or anything like that,” said Ms. Zubko.

A month before he died, Mr. Christie found a heart-shaped stone on their rural property outside Victoria. Using red nail polish, he inscribed it with the words: “To Keltie, my rock for 31 years”.

Mr. Christie began his long run in the public eye in 1983 when he agreed to defend James Keegstra on a charge of promoting hatred by espousing anti-Semitism in the classroom. After canvassing his client’s views in meticulous detail on the witness stand, Mr. Christie argued they were a matter of free expression, and Canada’s hate law was unconstitutional. In a landmark ruling that split the court, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the law and convicted Mr. Keegstra.

That case prompted Ernst Zundel, the hard-hatted Toronto neo-Nazi, to hire Mr. Christie to fight a charge of spreading “false news,” arising from his pamphlet intimating the Holocaust was a hoax.

This time, Mr. Christie had the charge quashed, but not before emerging as a national figure of controversy himself, with his fierce defence of Mr. Zundel and the regular sharing of sauerkraut and sausages at his client’s home, where he stayed.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail’s Kirk Makin, Mr. Christie said the case suited his personality because of his fervent belief in freedom of speech. But he added that the more he learned of the revisionist view of the Holocaust, the more sense it made. “I’ve come to have some grave doubts about the exterminationist side,” he told Mr. Makin.

Later, the Law Society of Upper Canada issued a written tongue-lashing of Mr. Christie over his defence of Imre Finta, charged under war crimes legislation for allegedly assisting in the deportation of thousands of Jews from Hungary during the Second World War.

Mr. Christie’s remarks during the trial “clearly disclose he has crossed the line separating counsel from client,” said the Society’s discipline chair, Harvey Strosberg. “He has made common cause with a small, lunatic, anti-Semitic fringe element in our society.” Mr. Strosberg declined to issue a complaint against the lawyer, however, contending his behaviour was part of the price of a free society.

Despite his string of highly publicized battles on behalf of anti-Semites and other outsiders, Mr. Christie also maintained a more routine law practice in tranquil Victoria. The legal community there knew a different Doug Christie.

“I had a lot of non-high-profile cases with him, the kind of day-to-day trials you find in any courthouse, and I always considered him a formidable opponent,” said Nils Jensen, a Crown prosecutor for 15 years. “He was always well-prepared and tenacious in defence of his clients.”

One time, he was perhaps a little too tenacious. According to news reports, a skeptical Mr. Christie wondered how his client, while handcuffed and seated on the floor, could possibly kick a policeman in the groin. He demanded the cop re-enact the kick. The policeman did so, hit the mark, and Mr. Christie doubled over in pain.

Lawyer Barclay Johnson shared space with Mr. Christie in his cramped office. He, too, knew a different Doug Christie. “I was very surprised to find out how civil he was. He threw himself into all his cases. He took on anything that involved state power.”

Mr. Johnson also noted the courage Mr. Christie displayed by making a final appearance in court to address the jury on behalf of a client, while racked with pain, a mere 2 1/2weeks before he died. “His frame of mind was that he’d just as soon die in the saddle.”

Much to his surprise, Mr. Farber found himself writing a remarkable e-mail of comfort to Mr. Christie when he learned of his fatal illness. “I felt I might come under some criticism, but in our tradition, you don’t kick your enemy when he is down.”

Mr. Farber told Mr. Christie that he would probably be shocked to hear from him, considering their past hostility. But cancer had touched his own family, and he said: “I hope to see you in court, where we will one day raise our swords again in battle.”

According to Mr. Farber, Mr. Christie wrote back, saying he was touched by his adversary’s remarks. “But I will never raise my sword in battle again.”

Mr. Christie leaves his father, Douglas, sisters Jane Christie and Myna Cryderman, brother Neil, his partner Keltie Zubko, son Cadeyrn and daughter Kalonica.

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