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.”
I 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
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.
From: Alheli Picazo
Date: Thu, Jun 4, 2015 at 3:27 PM
Subject: Re: Town hall meeting
To: Ezra Levant
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:
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:
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.
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:
Here’s one of the ever-so-brave Levant’s passes.
(No idea why the audio isn’t cooperating.)
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 about 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:
On June 16, a shorter version of this piece (without the additional media) appeared on CANADALAND.