In a column written this past weekend for the Toronto Sun, author and television host Ezra Levant advanced two questionable assertions. The column follows comments made in the House of Commons by Conservative MP Larry Miller comparing the 1990s Liberal government's intentions behind establishing a long gun registry to Adolf Hitler's racist and genocidal policies.
First, Levant compares Nazi suppression of civil liberties and personal freedom in general -- and German gun control policies both under Hitler and before him in particular -- to Canadian gun control policies. "The lesson is, don't let the government take away your rights," he writes, regardless of the intent behind right-limiting legislation.
Levant's general comparison is -- like Miller's -- obscene. To place the limitation of all so-called "rights" in one basket (i.e. to insinuate that Nazi persecution of Jews and other minorities can be compared with regulating firearms) is to trivialize crimes against humanity and hence to insult the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.
Furthermore, according to Levant, apparently it is a fundamental "right" to be able to purchase a firearm without being required to register it, regardless of the consequences that this may have on public safety.
Rights aren't absolute. The very first section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms notes that rights are subject to "reasonable limits." Even if it were a right to own an unregistered firearm, perhaps it would be reasonable to limit that right in order to prevent a repeat of the 1989 Montreal Massacre.
Regarding Levant's second claim, it was not the assertion in itself -- that comparing a certain policy of a past Canadian government to Nazi policies in the House of Commons must be permitted, presumably due to reasons concerning free speech -- that I found most distasteful. It was that Levant felt he was unable to defend this position without resorting to name-calling.
Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, who this past week rose in the House of Commons to condemn Miller's offensive remarks -- which, unlike what Levant claims in his article, actually didn't take note of Hitler's gun control policies -- was accused by Levant as being an "old Liberal hack," a "doddering old fool," and "long past his best-before date." (Full disclosure: I am a member of the board of directors of the Liberal association in the riding that Cotler represents.)
Levant also went on a tirade against Cotler for allegedly ignoring his parliamentary duties and spending too much time defending the rights of pro-democracy activists in authoritarian countries, despite the fact that a simple online search would have informed him that Cotler has in fact been present for at least 79 per cent of votes in the House since the opening of the fall session despite a Conservative campaign to spread misinformation about his impending retirement to his constituents.
In any case, what sort of reasoning is that? Cotler is an internationally-renowned human rights champion, one of Canada's preeminent international legal scholars, and a man of unquestionable integrity who has done more for his constituents and to advance the causes of international peace and justice than most MPs -- or even Canadians -- could ever aspire to do. He's certainly no "hack" or "fool." But that's not the point.
As a Liberal, I care about civil discourse. Even though I may disagree with them, I want to see intelligent, articulate conservative and libertarian voices present themselves in the forum of public debate. Such debate allows us to maximize our society's wealth of knowledge and to create better public policy for Canadians.
Ezra Levant's attention-seeking behaviour and lack of journalistic professionalism harm both his own cause and the cause of advancing civil discourse in Canada. An author of six books and a holder of a law degree should hold himself to a higher standard.
Follow Zach Paikin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@zpaikin