Rebel Without A Spine

Facts often prove a nuisance to those with an agenda to push or a narrative to sell. Just as those who peddle snake-oil rely on manufactured illness to hawk miracle cures, those who ply their trade in fear rely on ignorance to further an ideology.

I’ve long used social media as a means to combat misinformation, and it just so happens that one of my earliest fact-checks involved a media personality who wears his well-established history of “reckless disregard for the truth” as a point of pride.

In September 2010, ahead of the Sun News Network’s launch, future-host Ezra Levant penned an astonishingly libellous column for the Sun chain of papers accusing billionaire philanthropist George Soros of, among other things, having been a Nazi collaborator.

I combed through Levant’s column, countering each false assertion with documented facts, and soon learned my effort had made its way to Soros himself, who then notified Sun Media of his intent to sue for defamation.

A full retraction and apology was issued, noting there was “no basis for the statements in the column … Sun Media and Ezra Levant retract the statements made in the column and unreservedly apologize to Mr. Soros for the distress and harm this column may have caused him.”

I continued to follow Levant’s work – and that of his colleagues – after Sun News went to air, documenting mistruths, mocking hyperbolic absurdities, and when possible, pairing false reports with links to the facts.

Though I’d become somewhat of a thorn in Levant’s side, it was my possession of the only recording of his racist anti-Roma tirade after Sun News thought they’d effectively purged it from existence – a recording which aided in forcing him to, again, issue a grovelling apology – which cemented his disdain for me.

And perhaps explains why the self-described “fearless Rebel Commander” is so, utterly terrified of me.

When The Rebel, Levant’s online vanity project launched after Sun News’ demise, promoted an “EMERGENCY PUBLIC MEETING” regarding Alberta’s future under the “extremist” Notley regime – an event billed as “an independent, non-partisan meeting, open to the public for free” – I reserved a pair of seats.

After receiving a confirmation email from Amanda Achtman, Levant’s loyal apprentice who first served him at Ethical Oil before joining him at Sun News and now The Rebel, I was surprised to find another email, this one directly from Levant, notifying me of his personal intervention to cancel my reservation, claiming to be “concerned from your past conduct that you will be disruptive and profane.”

Knowing Levant’s assertions were fabricated, I requested evidence to support his allegations of my “past conduct” or “track-record” of being “disruptive and profane.”

posted a screenshot of the exchange to twitter, and quickly received numerous invites to be another’s +1 for the Calgary event.

I sent a number of follow-up emails to both Levant and Achtman, requesting proof of the various allegations cited to justify cancelling my reservation, and specifically asked whether I’d be barred from entering if I attended as someone’s guest.

Despite repeated requests, neither opted to respond.

After being asked to write about the presentation, I took a right-leaning friend – a Levant fan – up on the ‘+1’ offer and agreed to meet at the Carriage House Inn, the town hall’s location, a half-hour before its scheduled start.

I arrived in good time, maneuvered my way through the steady-stream of attendees and proceeded to the check-in tables. Before I had a chance to confirm my attendance, however, I was whisked away by a pair men whom Levant hired, it seemed, to specifically watch for me and prevent my participation. When I asked for an explanation as to why I was disallowed from this “open to the public” forum, I was told it was open to everyone — except me.

Neither man could explain why, only that they were under strict orders to ensure I didn’t get in.

When Levant ventured out to greet people, he accidentally offered me a hearty “Hello, and welcome!” before recognition set in, after which he frantically turned-tail and rushed away, shouting that I was “not welcome here,” refusing to answer when I asked him to come back, face me, and explain why.

As I stood in the lobby he passed by twice more, perhaps hoping I’d pull a Levant and cause a scene, but I simply continued to request explanation, and he continued to remain silent as he hurried by.

It was the same with Achtman who bolted when she first saw me, later making a few extra passes, each time refusing to stop and answer my queries. I offered to leave once I received an explanation as to why I was barred, but was told by one of Levant’s hired henchmen that I’d get no explanation, and if I did not leave I’d be arrested.

Knowing I’d done nothing wrong, I offered to face arrest, to stay and wait for the police to sort things out. When the police arrived, they seemed completely baffled by the farce. According to his gatekeepers, Levant claimed I’d “long been banned” from the Carriage House Inn, though I’d never once before set foot there. He also alleged I had a “track-record” of disrupting his events – his guards even claimed there were pictures, though neither I nor the police were allowed to see them – and he had a documented history of my ejections — again, flat-out lies.

Once the police determined all the allegations Levant provided were false, they simply shrugged and said there were no grounds on which to arrest me, nor could they force me to leave. One officer suggested I could “make better use of the night in this beautiful weather” than wait on an explanation which likely wouldn’t come, and I agreed.

I thanked them for their time and went on my way.

In the end, the “EMERGENCY” town halls were nothing more than an effort by Levant to build his fledgeling Rebel brand.

Employing his usual strategy – creating a threat (radical outsiders intent on destroying Alberta), presenting himself as the saviour (the “mainstream media” are complicit and incompetent) and, of course, asking for money fund his ‘heroics’ – Levant is working to rescue The Rebel from sharing the fate of his previous media ventures. Through this overwrought grasp at relevance, Levant sought to recruit a new generation of “severely normal” Albertans to his Rebel army; to rouse their anger, stoke their fear, and demand they fight to restore Alberta to her glory.

As evidence by Levant’s own photos of the audience, there are, indeed, a handful of Albertans eager to take up the pitchforks and torches, call themselves Rebels, and “take Alberta back” from the “socialist insurrection” — so long as it doesn’t interfere with Bingo night.

Correction/clarification: BigCityLib informs me he, too, had a recording of Levant’s anti-Roma screed, which was made for people pursuing the complaint. And though I wasn’t aware, it seems he has quite a history with the Rebel Commander himself. His chronicling of Levant’s growing trail of lost legal battles – and the subsequent financial payouts/grovelling apologies – is rather impressive and well-worth exploring.

Here is the full email exchange between Levant and myself, and eventually Achtman too:

From: Alheli Picazo 
Date: Fri, Jun 5, 2015 at 9:07 PM
Subject: Town hall meeting
To: Amanda Achtman, Ezra Levant 
Hi Ezra,

I’m still waiting on your response to my questions, as I have multiple invites to the event and I do plan on attending.

I’ve now added Amanda to this exchange, as she approved my RSVP, just in case you’d rather respond through her — you know, how middle-school girls communicate when they’re mad at each other.

Clock’s ticking.

From: Alheli Picazo 
Date: Thu, Jun 4, 2015 at 3:27 PM
Subject: Re: Town hall meeting
To: Ezra Levant 
Hi Ezra,

I eagerly await your response to the questions I’ve already posed, both in my previous email and over on twitter, and now that I’m up to 9 invites to be another’s +1 for the evening, clarity as to whether the event is indeed “an independent, non-partisan meeting, open to the public for free” is necessary.

I find it quite amusing that you’re so frightened by a wee Calgary lass who is quite literally less than half your size, and who is known (in real, offline life) by those who count themselves your followers – even some who are your personal friends – as quiet and gentle, and nothing but respectful. And it’s these hard-right leaning friends who want me to accompany them to the event. If I take one up on the offer, will only s/he be admitted and myself turned away? Are there any other unwritten rules for the night that I, or others, should be aware of?

Looking forward to your response in this exchange which, might I add, you initiated.

On Tue, Jun 2, 2015 at 9:08 PM, Alheli Picazo  wrote:
Hello Ezra,

I’m sorry to hear that despite being billed as “an independent, non-partisan meeting, open to the public for free,” you’ve taken it upon yourself to screen the guest list. I suppose that means if there is to be a Q & A, the questions/questioners will be pre-selected (if not staged) as well.

And that’s fine. It’s your event, you can do as you wish. Funny though, given your history of making hay over being kicked out/off premises – subsequently demanding those seeking to exclude you respect your freedom and face the tough questions; accusing them of being cowards, afraid of real scrutiny – you’re so quick to do the same.

But I must ask what you’ve based your assertion of my apparent “track-record / past conduct” of being “disruptive and profane”? Perhaps someone who doesn’t actually know me has misinformed you? Or maybe you just made it up, as is your penchant? Because we both know you’ve made an entirely fabricated assertion. Why? There’s no need. If you’re so intimidated at the thought of my presence, just say so.

Though yes, admitting as much would take away from that whole Rebel thing. And I wonder, should someone ask me to be their guest, will I be turned away at the door? Will there be a blacklist to ensure only the like-minded are admitted? If so, you really should change the event’s description.

Though it’s unfortunate you won’t allow me to attend, at least by your personal intervention in the matter you’ve once again revealed the depth – or lack thereof – of your commitment to ‘freedom.’

Hope all goes well, and I’ll watch for the (hopefully full, unedited) event video.


On Tue, Jun 2, 2015 at 7:32 AM, Ezra Levant wrote:
Dear Alheli,

I see that you have signed up for our Calgary town hall. I am concerned from your past conduct that you will be disruptive and profane, and that you are not attending in good faith.

Given your track-record, and given that this event will likely sell out, it is my view that we cannot set aside two seats for you, and so I am cancelling your reservation.

If you are genuinely interested in the event, we will be putting a video of it on our website.

Yours truly,

Ezra Levant

Do you know what would be terribly awkward, further showcasing the depth of Levant’s hypocrisy? If there were video of him doing precisely what he claimed he feared I’d do as justification for my exclusion from a public event:

Juxtapose! Here’s me at Levant’s town hall being catastrophically disruptive and oh, so profane:

Here’s one of Achtman’s passes. She managed a nod here!
(I’m not sure what’s up with the audio, will try to upload again later today._

And here’s one of the ever-so-brave Levant’s passes.
(Again, I have no idea why the audio failed with these short snippets. Will work to fix.)

As I was getting ready to leave – sitting in my vehicle in the Carriage House Inn parking lot, updating twitter with what had just happened – the Reform Party of Alberta was putting flyers in car windows. The leader had been greeting attendees down the hall from where I’d stood in the lobby, and when he saw me inside my car, he wasn’t keen on letting me have a flyer —
so I just grabbed one off the truck beside me (and hurried back to my car and locked the doors, as he was quite angry).

It’s disappointing how much vitriol has been directed toward CANADALAND and Jesse Brown for daring to publish my run-down of events. For a crowd who claims to be the defenders of free speech, they certainly are quick to condemn anyone who dares publish something they’d rather not read — or would prefer not have been written

You know: “Free speech for me, not for thee!” Their master has taught them well.

As for Levant: if you are reading this Ezra, my invitation to meet face-to-face stands. I’m happy to meet-up – with a neutral third-party (mutual conservative friend, perhaps) if it’ll make me seem less intimidating – and see if we can work things out.  Because we both know all your allegations of me were lies, and you continue to misrepresent (through your underlings, natch) what actually happened at the Calgary event.

I won’t hold my breath. But I will leave this here, as a friendly reminder that by your own admission, nothing you say should be mistaken for fact:

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 4.12.23 AM

On June 16, a shorter version of this piece (without the additional media) appeared on CANADALAND.

Address This Code

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on May 25, 2015.

In 2013, Kimberly Hall, Director of Women’s Ministry at All Saints Presbyterian Church, wrote an open letter to teen girls who, in her view, were tempting her sons into “impure thoughts” through social media.

“If you are friends with a Hall boy on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, then you are friends with the whole family,” wrote Hall. “The reason we have these (sometimes awkward) family conversations around the table is that we care about our sons … You don’t want the world to see you primarily in this sexual way, do you? If you post a sexy selfie (we all know the kind), or an inappropriate YouTube video – even once – it’s curtains.

“I know that sounds so old-school, but we are hoping to raise men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls … young men are fighting the daily uphill battle to keep their minds clear, and their thoughts praiseworthy.

“Girls, it’s not too late … run to your accounts and take down the closed-door bedroom selfies that make it too easy for friends to see you in only one dimension.

Hall’s missive went viral, and she was lauded as wise and courageous for her temerity in telling this generation of young women how impure they’ve revealed themselves to be; nothing but harlots out to tempt the moral convictions of proper, decent young men.

Rather than helping her sons develop a “strong, moral compass” to navigate relationships, to respect and regard female peers as more than objects of sexual desire, Hall places the onus for her sons’ thoughts and actions on the girls with whom they interact.

Despite Hall’s suggestion, this is not simply “old school” — it’s rape-culture. A mentality so pervasive it’s regularly excused as a norm, most recently demonstrated by a pair of controversies surrounding school dress codes, where uncovered shoulders, a hint of thigh, were deemed “too distracting” for male students who, evidently, cannot achieve academic excellence in the vicinity of female flesh.

In New Brunswick, 17-year-old Lauren Wiggins was given detention for her floor-length halter dress and subsequently suspended for protesting the school’s dress-code double-standard.

Days later, a Guelph-area principal was forced to apologize for advising female students to “dress cool, not skanky.”

Such attitudes not only demean the girls, but they insult their male peers by treating them as incapable of controlling their behaviour.

And by policing attire rather than working to modify improper reactions/interactions, a dangerous, blame-the-vicim mentality is perpetuated.

If we want girls to develop a strong sense of self-worth and self-respect, we must allow them to become comfortable with their bodies; to experiment with different styles, learn what they feel comfortable wearing, including how much – or little – skin they feel confident in baring.

Comprehensive sexual education, as is set to begin across Ontario this fall, can help girls develop this confidence and learn to be the sole keepers of their bodies while, along with their male counterparts, acquire the skills needed to foster healthy friendships and relationships, understand consent, and judge the appropriateness of behaviours — including what a woman’s dress does or does not invite.

Reforming rape-culture, retiring the fetishization of sexual or moral purity – real or perceived – and developing equal standards to which men and women are held may seem a daunting task, but in some instances, much progress can be made by making clear these two simple truths: There is more to a man than his sexual desire; more to a woman than a moment’s attire.


Freedom Of Religion vs. License To Discriminate

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on April 8, 2015. 

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding, or perhaps, a deliberate mischaracterization, of what constitutes religious freedom in a pluralistic society; of the role governments should play in protecting religious liberties, the extent to which citizens are obligated to facilitate the customs of another, and what it means to be unjustly targeted for holding contrary views.

On March 25, a cadre of evangelical leaders and activists took to Parliament Hill to decry “unjust infringements of the State” against Christianity, assail the perceived granting of rights to “others” at the expense of their own, lament being violated by “activist” courts, ostracized by business leaders, and vilified by media. MP James Lunney cited their grievances in his withdrawing from the Conservative caucus to better fight the “unprecedented attack” on his Christian beliefs.

These self-appointed spokesmen of Christianity, the beliefs/values they espouse, their connections and affiliations, merit a deeper examination than space permits, but the following brief should offer some insight into why they, and the various, inter-connected organizations they represent, feel so spurned by modernity:

Bill Prankard of the Bill Prankard Evangelistic Association is a faith-healer who claims that faith through the laying-on-of-hands has cured everything from quadriplegia to cancer; he has written books claiming that the power of God holds the cure for all ailments. He has bemoaned that while Christians “stand on guard” for Canada, “other groups have been coming with agendas that are very anti-Christian and anti-God and they’ve been doing a lot of stuff in our nation. I believe it’s time for Canadians to rise up and to take back what the enemy is stealing.”

André Schutten is a lawyer for the Association For Reformed Political Action. When Alberta lawmakers passed legislation affirming students’ rights to form gay-straight alliances, Schutten declared such a law “would make the Bolsheviks proud.”

And of course, there’s Canada Christian College president Charles McVety, whose most recent claim of religious persecution was evidenced by the coming-together of major corporations in committing to diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.


The concept of religious freedom has long been exploited to justify discrimination: Many religious conservatives, for instance, deemed God “the original segregationist,” and when the couple at the heart of Loving v. Virginia (1967), the landmark Supreme Court case striking down America’s ban on interracial marriage, were initially charged in violating “anti-miscegenation” laws, Judge Leon Bazile contended “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

As America’s march toward full marriage equality presses on, the Supreme Court set to rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage shortly, Conservative lawmakers, backed by Christian leaders like James Dobson, Franklin Graham, and Tony Perkins, are scrambling to preempt a ruling many expect as inevitable, enacting legislation under the guise of protecting religious liberties which would grant the right to refuse service to those who might “burden” the conscience.

As the recent backlash in Indiana against such license to discriminate has shown, however, the majority will not stand for replacing White with Straight on “[X] Only” signs.

Given the ongoing, real persecution faced by religious minorities – Christians hunted down by Islamic extremists throughout the Middle East; Muslims slaughtered by Christian militias and Buddhist extremists in Central African Republic and Burma respectively – it’s appalling that such affluent, privileged members of society cast themselves as the victims of tyrannical government; oppressed by an “overly-secular, militant atheistic” society.

Much to traditionalists’ dismay, society has progressed, and those who continue to preach hatred, foster intolerance, are finally learning the Bible is no longer the impenetrable shield it once was.

Inoculating Against Science-Denialism

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on February 10, 2015. 

There’s an illness sweeping its way across North America, one which has long-troubled the scientific community and baffled even the most seasoned medical expert.

This problem isn’t new, but was once considered primarily a threat to underdeveloped nations which have yet to fully reap the benefits of modern medical and technological advances: advances which turned once-fatal conditions into manageable, even curable, ones; advances which have saved countless lives and alleviated immeasurable suffering.

The regression, this outbreak of a highly-contagious, yet preventable, affliction, is what so troubles the medical and scientific communities alike: the ailment poses a direct risk to past public-health achievements. Though, when caught early, the condition can be treated and rectified, this particular malady is notoriously impenetrable once full-blown.

In mild cases, the afflicted are referred to as merely “vaccine-hesitant”: often new parents, genuinely interested in the health and welfare of their child, yet lacking the specific knowledge required to fully understand the importance of vaccination. Given their openness to discussion, early-intervention is key to full recovery. The combination therapy of patience and availability is often the best approach; A steady dose of evidence-based material is prescribed, and in most cases, the science-denialism will simply run its course.

Full-blown anti-vaccination sentiment, however, is one of science-denialism’s most potent manifestations. Not only is it highly contagious through typical transmission channels — fringe pseudoscientific websites; conspiratorial Facebook memes — but once airborne, this virulent ideology is nearly impossible to contain.

Television and radio tend to be the incurably-afflicted’s host of choice. Knowing media are under great pressure to avoid the appearance of bias, the stricken demand equal airtime, insist on presenting “the other side” of the argument.

Of course, there are no “two sides” in the matter of vaccinations; no “debate” to be had. There are proven, irrefutable facts regarding the safety and efficacy of vaccination, and there are lies. It’s that simple.

Still, the afflicted enthusiastically appear on-air armed with “research” acquired while earning a PhD in epidemiology from Google University. They offer “alternative” theories of disease, complete with “alternative” remedies like homeopathic nosodes. (Read: expensive placebos; snake-oil.)

Those beyond treatment, whose science-denialism hardens in the face of evidence, have, ironically, shown a developed immunity to facts. They aren’t driven by reason, but rather, by motivated reasoning — seeking only information fitting their beliefs, and when presented with details challenging those preconceived notions, they double-down on denial.

What, then, is the solution?

Though there isn’t a cure for science-denialism, there are steps which can be taken to mitigate the risk, keep the contagion in check. By refusing to give the infected a platform, be it through on-air interviews or quoting at length in print, media can prevent misinformation from benefitting the appearance of validity. Yes, every person is entitled to an opinion, but no, every opinion does not warrant equal merit.

Medical professionals and the science-minded can work to counter the pseudoscience by making themselves available to help the under-informed navigate the information minefield; providing resources to debunk anti-vaccine assertions; answering even the silliest question without judgement.

We must accept, too, that not every mind can be changed.

To quote Dr. Ben Goldacre: “You cannot reason people out of a position that they did not reason themselves into.”

But it’s always worth the shot.

Of Torture And Tortured Logic

This piece appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on December 18, 2014 

The executive summary of a nearly 7,000 page report into the C.I.A.’s Detention and Interrogation program under the Bush administration confirmed not only what has long been public knowledge – that America did, in fact, engage in torture – but also revealed that, despite an aggressive PR blitz extolling the virtues of its interrogation program, the C.I.A. knew full well the “enhanced” techniques had failed.

Not only was it ineffective; it was counter-productive, just as it had proven to be in the late 1950s, early 1960s and again in the 1980s, as Richard Stolz, chief of the clandestine service under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, testified to Congress: “Physical abuse or other degrading treatment was rejected not only because it is wrong, but because it has historically proven to be ineffective.”

Yet, as the Senate’s report reveals, just weeks after 9/11, C.I.A. lawyers prepared a draft memorandum regarding hostile interrogations, noting “a policy decision must be made with regard to U.S. use of torture.”

“States may be unwilling to call the U.S. to task for torture when it resulted in saving thousands of lives … C.I.A. could argue torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm.”

The resulting torture program – not my definition, mind you; despite officials’ attempts to sanitize the term, first referring to “enhanced interrogation techniques”, now further reduced to the innocuous “EIT” acronym, torture is the C.I.A.’s own definition – as described in the report, wasn’t devised out of necessity, it was borne out revenge, modelled after methods intended to yield false confessions, and developed by a pair of retired Air Force psychologists, neither of whom “had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of Al Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.”

One of the two psychologists, in an interview with Vice News following the report’s release, conceded the committee’s conclusion that torture failed to result in actionable intelligence. According to Dr. James Mitchell, his methods were only meant “to facilitate getting actionable intelligence by making a bad cop that was bad enough that the person would engage with the good cop.”

“I would be stunned,” said Mitchell, “if they found any kind of evidence that EITs, as they were being applied, yielded actionable intelligence.”

The extent of the torture, the full scope of the program’s depravity went far beyond what had been previously known, as the report painstakingly documents: Waterboarding so frequent, a detainee so broken, that “when the interrogator ‘raised his eyebrow,’ without instructions, ‘(detainee) slowly walked on his own to the water table and sat down … when the interrogator snapped his fingers twice, (detainee) would lie flat on the waterboard,” prepared for torture.

Sexual assault under the guise of “reverse sustenance” as a means of exerting “total control over the detainee”; sodomy so frequent and/or forceful it resulted in a torn anus and dislodged intestine.

Mock burials and executions, games of Russian Roulette; Threats to rape or murder family members; Torture even if a detainee agreed to fully cooperate.

Wrongful detention and torture of innocents — some of whom were the C.I.A.’s own informants, another whom was tortured to death.

The torture proved so extreme some C.I.A. personnel attempted to halt the techniques; others reached “the point of tears.” When officers questioned the program, they were “strongly (urged)” by then-head of the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Centre Jose Rodriguez, “that any speculative language as to the legality of given activities or, more precisely, judgment calls as to their legality vis-à-vis operational guidelines for this activity agreed upon and vetted at the most senior levels of the agency, be refrained from,” as “such language is not helpful.”

As for the C.I.A.’s “most frequent and prominent examples of purported counterterrorism successes” attributed to torture, the report dismantles them all. From the identification and capture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the tracking down and killing of Osama Bin Laden, all quality, actionable information was gathered through conventional means prior to the ‘enhanced’ methods.

One instance where torture did produce ‘actionable’, though entirely fabricated, information: Establishing a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, including those notorious WMDs.

This bogus admission was later recanted after the detainee admitted he’d only told the interrogators what he “assessed they wanted to hear” to end the torture. But that false intelligence nevertheless made its way to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell – who, the report notes, was kept in the dark about the C.I.A.’s program over fears he’d “blow his stack” – and was cited in Powell’s U.N. speech to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Perhaps that’s why former Vice President Dick Cheney insists – facts be damned – that torture worked; why he shrugs at the notion of an innocent man tortured to death; why rape is no longer an abhorrent weapon of war when given a euphemism and committed by Americans.

Why he – a man who sought and received five draft deferments, thus successfully avoiding military service – feels he is more knowledgable on the matter than fellow Republican John McCain, a man who served his country honourably and, as a prisoner of war, endured the brutality of his captors.

A man who, in response to the torture report, delivered a remarkable address:

“In the end,” McCain argued, “torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, rather than seeking justice, those in power sought revenge, and in doing so found themselves both financially and morally bankrupt. The wounds terrorism inflicted on America were deep, but it’s those which were self-inflicted that continue to do damage.

Until Republicans choose to be the party of McCain rather than the party of Cheney, those wounds will never heal.

In The Fight Against Sex Crimes, We’re All In This Together

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on November 12, 2014 

Late last week, amid the growing scandal surrounding Jian Ghomeshi, buried under the reprehensible politicking and partisan bickering over the handling of sexual misconduct allegations on Parliament Hill, was a remarkable moment of bravery and candour from well-known political commentator and former Parliament Hill staffer Ian Capstick.

A regular contributor to CBC’s Power and Politics media panel, Capstick, while discussing a history of troubling culture experienced by many on the Hill, revealed that as a young staffer he was repeatedly sexually harassed by one MP, and sexually touched by another. Both perpetrators were men, and in neither case did he report the abuse.

Echoing the sentiments of many who posted to the #BeenRapedNeverReported hashtag – a movement started jointly by retired Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias and Montreal Gazette justice reporter Sue Montgomery – Capstick remained silent due to a sense of powerlessness.

“You feel absolutely without power,” Capstick explained, “to be able to report somebody who is 30 or 40 years your senior, and is perhaps at a status where you just simply, as a 21-year-old, can’t challenge that person.”

Asked by host Evan Solomon what prompted him to divulge such a personal, clearly painful, experience, Capstick cited Zerbisias and her online movement, noting “the bravery of women who have had to go through much, much worse than I ever have,” and that telling their stories allowed for “a very different style of conversation.”

Indeed, what has emerged as a light amid the deluge of trauma is the empowerment of sexual assault survivors — the coming forward, and coming together, of those who’ve long shouldered a common, deeply private burden, and the collective shedding of shame, defiance of stigma, and reclamation of power.

What’s been created is a rare opportunity for constructive dialogue: to discuss boundaries, educate on consent, and shed light on unwelcome behaviours that are often overlooked, seen by many as harmless, not because they’re acceptable, but because they’ve become so commonplace.

This cannot happen, however, when the terms of discussion are dictated by a small, but passionate, segment who, through sweeping assertions that “all men” are equally predatory and are de facto responsible for the behaviour of everyone sharing the gender, unwittingly marginalize an entire group of victims: male survivors of sex crimes.

Men, too, are victims, and are often met with a greater skepticism when allegations of assault – especially at the hands of a woman – are made.

Case in point: Most-“liked” comments under a recent report of an ex-NFL cheerleader’s indictment on charges of raping a minor: “Headline should read: Teen’s Fantasy Fulfilled!” “Raped by NFL cheerleader! Where were they when I was young?” “ Kids have it too good these days!”

Man or woman, gay or straight, old or young, independent or disabled — no survivor is responsible for having been victimized, nor is he or she culpable for whatever societal grievance abusers use to justify their crimes.

A Y-chromosome shouldn’t be an original sin for which carriers must forever repent. No, all men are not responsible for the actions of some.

But all men do, indeed, have a part to play in fighting rape culture, combatting everyday, casual sexism, fostering equality, and teaching their sons – the next generation of men – to do the same.

A deeply ingrained, outdated patriarchal culture can only be uprooted through a collective, unified effort; there can be no substantive change without unwavering, persistent efforts from both sides of the gender divide.

The atmosphere which empowered Capstick to share his experience is precisely the environment needed to advance beyond hashtag-activism toward real-world change. We must shift from talking past each other and begin talking to talking to each other – allowing for input, welcoming questions, listening to concerns – and base the merits of any contribution on its substance rather than the gender of the contributor.

Only then can the seeds of change finally begin to take root.

Circus At The Levant

“Being a Jew isn’t like being Black or being gay or being a woman, or even Israeli where many Jews come from. Being a Jew is a choice, like being a Blood or Crip.

Jews are the medieval prototype of the Occupy Wall Street movement; a shiftless group of hobo’s that doesn’t believe in property rights for themselves – they’re nomads – or for others.  They rob people blind.

Jew is a culture synonymous with swindlers.  The phrase Jew and cheater have been so interchangeable historically that the word has entered the English language as a verb.  He ‘jewed’ me.

Well the Jews have ‘jewed’ us.

This scourge has come to Canada as false refugees, here to jew us again, to rob us blind, as they have done in the Middle East for centuries.”

In September 2012, the star of a Canada’s “most controversial news channel” took to the air, refused to be cowed by those who’d surely “blow (their) hate crime whistle,” and proudly read what is arguably the most racist, offensive monologue the news channel has aired to date.

And for a network whose very existence depends on fomented outrage, that’s saying something.

Impossible, you might think. Surely if any network, particularly one billing itself as “Canada’s home for hard news and straight talk,” aired such a repulsive screed, Canadians, who’d never stand for such intolerance, would be up in arms, calling for the censure of the network; the termination of the news personality in question.

Or at least, being Canadian and all, would politely request an apology.

Indeed, you’d be right. The excerpt seen above has been altered ever-so-slightly: The word Gypsy replaced with Jew; gypped with jewed; Europe with Middle East.

Are you still repulsed?

The network in question, Sun News, and the personality, Ezra Levant, certainly had no qualms about what aired.

In fact, it wasn’t until Kory Teneycke, former spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and current Vice President of Sun News, was pleading to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council for his networks’ inclusion in basic cable packages across the country – a full six months after the segment aired – that Levant expressed any reservations about that episode, prompting a surprise on-air apology, followed by a farcical you’ve-been-a-naughty-boy! finger-wagging from Teneycke for good measure.

Should you think the apology was at all sincere and unrelated to Sun News’ application to the CBSC, consider that shortly after the original broadcast, a joint op-ed from three respected, influential Jewish figures – former CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress Bernie Farber,  Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger, and president of Ve’ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee Avrum Rosensweig – appeared in the National Post, condemning Levant’s “contemptible screed;” Noting that, just as the Jews were targeted during the Holocaust, so too were the Roma.

“There is even a Roma proverb that speaks of Jews and Roma trudging to the gas chambers together,” wrote Farber et al. “Andje jekh than hamisajlo amaro vushar ande’l bova: ‘Our ashes are mingled in the ovens’.”

What was Levant’s response to Farber, a man Levant has never shied away from sparring in the past? Absolute silence.

Though, after the apology, Levant was back to lobbing insults, calling Farber a “self-hating Jew,” a “censor and a liar”, and “too stupid to really be Jewish.”

You see, Levant likes to style himself the ultimate defender of all things Jewish; the decider of who qualifies as a ‘real’ Jew, the exposer of traitors and pretenders, labeling anyone who dares cross him, a “jew-hater.”

And, as evidenced by his attacks on Farber, not even fellow Jews are safe from Levant’s  nonsense.

In 2010, Levant penned an atrocious, ripped-from-the-furthest-corners-of-the-conservative-conspiratorial-blogosphere column for The Sun chain of papers titled Moral Hollowness At Work in which he, in great detail, slandered philanthropist Geroge Soros – a favorite boogyman of the American far right fringe – alleging, among other things, that Soros, a Hungarian Jew who survived the Holocaust, was secretly a “Nazi collaborator (who) turned on other Jews to spare himself.”

After Soros threatened both Levant and Sun Media with a hefty lawsuit, both a retraction and apology were issued, reading, in part:

“A column by Ezra Levant contained false statements about George Soros and his conduct as a young teenager in Nazi-occupied Hungary. The management of Sun Media wishes to state that there is no basis for the statements in the column and they should not have been made.”

This is what Levant does: He deliberately mischaracterizes, misconstrues, and misrepresents – and often entirely fabricates – facts to suit his narrative.

His most recent misreporting stems from a confrontation that erupted between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators at a rally in Calgary on July 18th; a gathering initially meant to express solidarity with the people of Gaza.

To hear Levant tell it, “Pro-Hamas thugs … took over the streets of Calgary,” streets where “Arab extremists (chase) Jews and Gentiles;” where “Queen Elizabeth’s laws don’t rule … Sharia law does.”

It was “a throwback to anti-Semitic ground troops of Germany in the 1930s!” That’s right. An otherwise uneventful rally, according to Levant, could have been mistaken for Hitler’s Brownshirts carrying out street violence against Jews.

How on earth could Calgary, in a few short minutes, have transformed from a beacon of tolerance to a scene straight out of Gaza and/or Nazi Germany?

First at fault: Nenshi.

Apparently Levant learned nothing from his previous attempt to smear Calgary’s Mayor: His campaign to paint Nenshi as an intolerant Muslim who targeted Christians was so mind-numbingly absurd that even The Calgary Sun refused to climb aboard.

Still, on Twitter, Levant recycled the accusations against the Mayor, claiming Nenshi ‘harassed’ the noble Artur Pawlowski — Canada’s own Westboro Baptist preacher: a rank homophobe who claimed the historic floods of 2013 were a result, in part, of God’s “weeping for the perversions of homosexuality;” who protested this summer’s World Pride in Toronto with a giant “Satan Loves Fags” banner — yet hadn’t condemned the “violent Arab thugs.”

On air, Levant called Nenshi “a disgrace,” a man who “never shuts up about anything” but “hasn’t said a word” about July 18th.

In truth, however, Nenshi, who announced on July 15 that he was off to a family wedding, wasn’t even in Calgary in the days leading up to, during, or following the rally. And upon his return, he did, in fact, speak on the issue.

Of course, had Levant acknowledged either of these things, he wouldn’t have been able to rally his troops to spend days hurling slurs and accusations at the Mayor on Levant’s behalf.

Second at fault: The Calgary Police.

Granted, CPS’ approach, or lack thereof, at the rally was bungled from the get-go, and the police admitted as much. However, Levant’s assertions of political influence, calling the police liars, alleging bias, willful blindness, and a hand-off approach out of concern for maintaining diversity  is not just untrue, but grossly irresponsible.

Alas, responsible journalism is a lousy means of inciting backlash.

While there’s no excusing the violence that occurred at the July 18 rally, as the police rightly noted: both sides were at fault.  What transpired was the result of a small segment of agitators from both sides looking for a fight.

There’s a reason Levant failed to delve into the profiles of some of the Pro-Israel protesters as did those on the pro-Palestinian side: It would kill his narrative.

For example: Two of the pro-Israel demonstrators involved in the scuffle – including the man in the orange shirt featured in the ‘evidence’ photos Levant himself helped circulate – are well-known provocateurs Merle Terlesky and Jeff Willerton: a pair notorious for an altercation at Calgary’s 2006 Pride parade, where, waving “No Pride In Sodomy” signs and shouting homophobic slurs at marchers, Terlesky was punched to the ground.

But facts be damned, Levant’s got an axe in desperate need of grinding and persecutory delusions screaming for validation; So on Thurday, July 31, Levant will host his own rally, a “REAL Canadian” rally.

A “rally to take back Canadian streets from violent thugs!”

The successful, peaceful, pro-Israel rally which was held in the days following the contentious rally was an inadequate repudiation of the violence, it seems.

And not-at-all lucrative.

Just as freedom isn’t free, outrage doesn’t come cheap, and Lord knows Levant isn’t about to fund this traveling circus.

As Levant admits in his call to action/invitation to the rally/plea for donations: “This isn’t about Israel or Gaza at all.”

Indeed. This is about Levant; about feeding his ego and growing his brand, not to mention his bank account.