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Monday, April 7, 2014

Their lawyers paint two very different pictures of Ezra Levant and Khurram Awan in closing trial arguments

Well, it's all over now except for the verdict.

The lengthy trial in which Ezra Levant was accused of defaming former Canadian Islamic Congress activist Khurram Awan heard closing arguments from the defense and plaintiff's attorneys today, and as you would  expect, two very different pictures were painted by each side.

Awan's attorney Brian Shiller depicted his client as an honest, courageous man, trying to restore his reputation from malicious attacks by a vindictive, angry Levant. On the other side, Levant's lawyer Iain MacKinnon unfolded a portrait of Awan the liar; a person who acted in seeming conflict-of-interest, someone who cares nothing for free speech, and if not an antisemite himself, certainly someone willing to associate himself with those who are and be their accomplice.

And now the judge has to decide which is the more accurate picture.

"Inconceivable" was a word Mr. Mackinnon used twice to describe Awan's denials. The first to describe Awan's claim that while testifying to Parliament on behalf of the Canadian Islamic Congress and acting as its Youth President, he was unaware that his CIC boss, Mohamed Elmasry, had publicly proclaimed, on TV, that all Israelis over the age of 18 are legitimate targets for terrorism. The second "inconceivable" was used to describe Awan denying that, while organizing political advocacy for the CIC, he wasn't aware that the organization had very publicly called for the antisemitic terror groups Hezbollah and Hamas to be taken off Canada's list of designated terror organizations.

Whether or not Awan's denials are inconceivable, they are most definitely far-fetched.

Mr. Shiller has an obligation to make arguments for his client, and he has to make them as they come, so to speak. But many of the arguments Shiller made for Awan sounded like pathetic excuses a dishonest person would make out of desperation.

Repeating an argument that he had made earlier in the trial, Shiller noted again that Awan was never a member of the Canadian Islamic Congress, and so Levant's claims of his being a "member" of an antisemitic organization were defamatory.

Awan was the Youth President of the CIC, which is a very prominent role in the organization. As mentioned earlier, he testified before Parliament as a representative of the CIC and he did organizing and advocacy for it. During the Human Rights Commission complaints about Mark Steyn's Macleans article which started this whole matter, which the Canadian Islamic Congress described as their having launched several, Awan was named as the complainant, with the clear impression created in the CIC press release that he was acting on their behalf.

So, while it may be true,  how honest an argument does "I wasn't an actual member" sound to you?

Mr. Shiller also condemned the analogy Levant made of saying Awan's denial of knowing the CIC was antisemtic is like someone saying they joined the Ku Klux Klan because he likes wearing sheets. "Ridiculous" is how Shiller described Levant's comparison between the Canadian Islamic Congress and the racist Ku Klux Klan.

I've actually compared the CIC to the Nazis. After all, they both had leaders who called for the killing of Jews and promoted anti-semitic conspiracy theories. The CIC has expressed support for Hezbollah, whose leader has said he hopes all the Jews come to Israel so they'll be in one place where he can kill them all.

So really, is the Ku Klux Klan analogy that far off? 

Sure, Mohamed Elmasry apologized when he saw what a storm he raised with his comments, as Mr. Shiller made sure to mention. What he did not mention was something told to me by Michael Coren, who hosted the show on which Elmasry discredited himself and his organization. Coren said that during the break, before they resumed the segment, he gave Elmasry every opportunity to retract what he said and to clarify the comments once taping resumed. But the CIC head stood by them. It was only when it became apparent how damaging it was to his and the CIC's reputation after the show's broadcast that the "Zhoo-hater" had second thoughts. But the insincerity of an apology under such circumstances should seem rather obvious.

Shiller also suggested the CIC couldn't be antisemitic because of complimentary letters the organization received form politicians such as Gilles Duceppe and former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

As someone who has worked in Communications Branches for the Ontario civil service, let me tell you how that works. Organizations submit requests for letters from the Premier and some assistant will prepare the congratulatory letters, then put them in a pile for the Premier to sign. He almost never even looks at the letters, just signing one after another. These things are done as outreach (or vote-whoring, depending on how you look at it). But they are hardly the ringing endorsement that Mr. Shiller suggested, and I'd go so far as to suggest that if someone in McGuinty's office had bothered to do some due diligence on the CIC, that letter would probably never have gone out.

The judge had very salient questions for both attorneys during their closings and it's hard to tell which way she is inclined. Levant said some very harsh things about Awan, some of which were factually incorrect, such as his claim that he was acting in a conflict-of-interest by being both attorney and witness in the BC Human Rights Commission complaint. Awan was never an attorney in that case, but a great deal of testimony was devoted to whether or not he created that impression by sitting at the Counsel's table, of if indeed he did sit at that table at all.

Awan also claimed his reputation was badly damaged by Levant's claims about him, but MacKinnon countered that many other articles, in very prominent publications, had said much the same thing as Levant did.

In the end, a guilty verdict for Levant could be like trying to avoid getting splashed by mud. You could avoid almost all of it, but all it takes is one little piece to hit you for you to get dirty.

Earlier Trial reports are HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.


Anonymous said...

Let's hope the judge also considers the larger impact her decision will have--that it will lay the framework for more "offended Muslims" if she doesn't find in Ezra's favour.

truepeers said...

Good job, thank you!

Xanthippa said...

Thank you for reporting on this most important trial!

chippawajoe said...

Excellent reportage, and thank you for doing this.