An Ontario Superior Court judge has delivered a stinging rebuke of Ezra Levant, declaring as part of an $80,000 libel judgment that the Sun Media personality displayed "reckless disregard for the truth" and "took little or no responsibility for the accuracy" of certain statements he published on his personal blog.
Finding that Levant acted with malice in his coverage of a 2008 British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, Justice Wendy Matheson said "he did little or no fact-checking regarding the posts complained of, either before or after their publication. Nor did he accurately report what was taking place at the hearing. And, with one exception, when he learned that he got his facts wrong, he made no corrections."
In finding for plaintiff Khurrum Awan, who was at the time an Osgoode Hall law student, the judge also rejected a defence, put forward by Levant's lawyers, that their client's reputation as an "outspoken provocateur and troublemaker" would preclude most reasonable people from taking his defamatory statements literally.
Mr. Levant has 15 days to remove the defamatory posts from his blog, ezralevant.com. At the time of their publication in 2008 and 2009, he was an independent commentator.
He says he will appeal the ruling (available here).
The case stems from complaints made by Awan and three fellow students over a 2006 Maclean's magazine cover story, "The future belongs to Islam," written by Mark Steyn. In 2007, the group of students, who believed the article portrayed Muslims unfairly, met with Maclean's staff to ask the magazine to publish an article that offered a different view of their religion. They also requested Maclean's make a donation to a charity working in race relations. Editor Ken Whyte refused, noting the magazine had already published numerous letters responding to the article.
Later, the students escalated their efforts, writing to Rogers Publishing, owner of Maclean's, for redress. When that was rebuffed they took their complaints to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, while the Canadian Islamic Congress took up their cause with complaints to Canadian and B.C. human rights bodies.
Levant has frequently attacked human rights commissions as "kangaroo courts" that should be abolished.
In his coverage, Levant drew direct connections between Awan and the CIC's controversial founder Mohamed Elmasry, who has said in media interviews that every Israeli adult is a legitimate "target."
In a series of blog posts, headlined "Khurrun Awan is a serial liar," and then, "Awan the liar, part 2," "Awan the liar, part 3," and so on, Levant charged that Awan lied repeatedly to the tribunal about demands he and his fellow students made to Maclean's. Citing the request for a charitable donation, Levant charged that the group of students "tried to shake down" Maclean's.
At trial, Mr. Levant's lawyers argued his statements were fair comment. The judge accepted that defence for some of the blog posts, but rejected it for others.
"At trial, the defendant took little or no responsibility for the accuracy of the words complained of, routinely attempting to minimize or mischaracterize his own errors," she wrote. "I find that the defendant's 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."
She added: "It is also significant that the defendant is himself a lawyer. For most of the blogs at issue, he was purporting to report on a legal proceeding … [He] ought to have been aware of the serious ramifications of his words on the reputation of this law student. Yet, at trial, he repeatedly tried to minimize his mistakes and his lack of diligence."
Awan said at trial that he believes Levant's blog posts have made it difficult for him to find employment as a lawyer in Toronto. After articling in Toronto, he secured a job in Regina, where is currently working as a lawyer.
In a statement e-mailed to The Globe, Levant called the result "a shocking case of libel chill that should concern any Canadian who is worried about radical Islam, and the right to call out anti-Semitism in the public square.
"If this judgment stands, anyone who dares to challenge members of Muslim extremist groups on the basis of their affiliation with such groups is at risk of costly lawsuits – and all the member of the anti-Semitic group needs to do is to deny that they share the beliefs of their organizations that they work hard to promote, or claim they had no clue their anti-Semitic group was anti-Semitic.
He added: "It is a national gag order, which has the effect of silencing and punishing critics of anti-Semitism."
Levant has set up a fundraising website to help pay his legal bills, which he estimates will be at least $30,000.