Nazi supporter is getting some nonsensical praise upon his death.
By Tom Hawthorn, in The Tyee.ca (March 13)
Doug Christie is dead. Good riddance.
The Victoria lawyer earned national notoriety for his ardent defence of a motley collection of scoundrels. He represented a rogue’s gallery of losers – old-time Nazis such as John Ross Taylor, neo-Nazis such as Wolfgang Droege, a couple of Jew-hating school teachers, assorted mixed nuts of white supremacists and Ku Klux Klansmen, and Ernst Zundel, a comic-book Nazi lunatic whose stated disbelief in the Holocaust was matched with a belief the Nazis had UFO bases hidden in Antarctica from which they would complete their quest for global domination. (Zundel wrote books on both subjects.)
On his website, Christie grandiloquently declared himself to be “Canada’s greatest free speech defender.” What nonsense. When did Christie ever defend speech with which he did not agree? He gained a national platform defending clients against hate-crimes laws and human-rights tribunals, but less well remembered was his own frequent use of the courts to stifle the speech of opponents.
In the late 1990s, Christie represented clients who sued newspaper cartoonist Josh Beutel, the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association, the author Warren Kinsella, a college professor in B.C., and a television station in Kelowna. (The latter was a case in which I was to become an unwilling figure. More about that later.) “I do believe this is a concerted effort on the part of members of the extreme right to stifle those who are dealing with hate-mongers,” Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress said at the time.
In 1984, Christie sued Edmonton Sun columnist John Geiger for describing Christie’s Western separatist movement as “just an Alberta version of the Ku Klux Klan.” The lawyer was awarded $30,000 in damages, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The following year, Vancouver radio hotline host Gary Bannerman delivered an editorial in which he said, “Doug Christie has aligned himself so many times with these perverted monsters that he has to be viewed as one himself, in my view.”
No publication was too small, no comment too innocuous. In 1997, Christie threatened the Martlet student newspaper at the University of Victoria with a lawsuit for publishing an editorial describing members of his Canadian Free Speech League as “extremist thugs.” The students consulted a lawyer and refused Christie’s demand of a retraction. Who defended free speech in that round?
In an interview with the CBC’s As It Happens, Christie let slip an honest glimpse into his thinking. “I know of no people more persecuted than people in the position of James Keegstra, or Malcolm Ross, or Ernst Zundel,” he said. So let’s be clear about Christie’s worldview. In the long, troubled history of humankind, or even only of this nation, no one was more persecuted than Keegstra, an Alberta school teacher who taught the pupils in his Eckville classroom that the Holocaust was a hoax perpetrated by the Jews, who, not incidentally, were evil conspirators responsible for fomenting wars and revolution. The students who echoed his views got better marks than those who did not. For this, Keegstra lost his job and was found guilty of promoting hatred, the penalty for which was a one-year suspended sentence, a year of probation, and an order to perform 200 hours of community service. In the annals of punishment, this is weak tea, though it did not prevent Christie and his client from luxuriating in a faux martyrdom.
In an adversarial legal system such as ours, every defendant is deserving of an ardent defence. Nor should a lawyer’s legal arguments ever be mistaken for an endorsement of a client or their views. Christie certainly delivered for his clients, proving himself to be a frustrating, demanding and belittling presence in the courtroom, as he eschewed even basic dignities when afforded the opportunity to badger Holocaust survivors on the witness stand. Hate-crime laws and human-rights tribunals suppress speech. Prosecutions provide a platform for the obnoxious views of a parade of odious characters. Among them I would include Christie himself.
In 1993, the disciplinary committee of the Law Society of Upper Canada investigated the lawyer’s conduct in the Finta and Zundel trials. The three-person panel rejected three complaints about his actions, doing so in language that offered little solace for the lawyer. Christie’s behaviour “crossed the line separating counsel from client: he has made common cause with a small, lunatic anti-Semitic fringe element in our society,” wrote Harvey Strosberg of the law society. The ruling went on to state, “We know who Mr. Christie is. In the depths of his imagery he has not lied. Suffering Mr. Christie’s words and opinions is part of the price one pays for upholding and cherishing freedom of speech in a free and democratic society.”