Testimony by 9/11 ‘truther’ proof libel trials make strange bedfellows

By Christie Blatchford
National Post, March 6, 2014

You just can’t make this stuff up.

There was, first of all, at the libel trial of conservative writer and TV host Ezra Levant on Thursday, the very exciting sight in Ontario Superior Court of two witnesses testifying by videolink from Vancouver.

Now, people the planet over may routinely Skype with their kids and their friends, but in the genteel and stately world of the Ontario courts, getting this equivalent arranged took a preposterous amount of effort, organization and judicial attention.

That it went relatively smoothly left everyone seeming highly pleased with themselves: You would have thought the witnesses had testified from Mars.

Simultaneously, of course, as has been the case much of the week, members of the public — as many as six or seven at one point — were forced to stand, so tiny is the courtroom.

Let that be a lesson for you: Just because a case of some significant public interest took five years to make it to trial is no reason to expect there will be room for the actual public.

Mr. Levant is being sued for $100,000 for his blog coverage of three unsuccessful human rights complaints against Maclean’s magazine and an excerpt it published in 2007 from Mark Steyn’s book America Alone, in particular for Mr. Levant’s portrayal of complainant Khurrum Awan.

On his blog, Mr. Levant described Mr. Awan, then a law student and now a lawyer in Saskatchewan, in such florid language as “Awan the Liar,” a “serial, malicious, money-grubbing liar” and “a junior Al Sharpton,” and is alleged to have implied he was also an anti-Semite.

His defence is primarily one of fair comment.

Mr. Levant himself began testifying Thursday — and what a colourful and interesting witness he is going to be — but his evidence was brief, interrupted by the much-fretted-about video testimony.

Before they got to that, the famous veteran libel lawyer Julian Porter was in the room — but this time, un-gowned and testifying as a witness.

He was called by Iain MacKinnon, Mr. Levant’s lawyer.

Mr. MacKinnon was doing the usual softball eliciting of Mr. Porter’s many accomplishments before getting to the nitty gritty, and asked if he’d received any awards for his work.

“Nooooooo,” Mr. Porter drawled.

There was a long pause.

He grinned and said, clearly enjoying himself, “I’m still waiting.”

Mr. Porter was testifying about a key meeting where Mr. Awan and three other law students who were upset about the Steyn piece met senior Maclean’s editors. As counsel to the magazine, Mr. Porter was there, and took notes.

The meeting became quickly confrontational, and ended badly: it was as a direct result of this failure the students launched their human rights complaints.

Long ago as it was, the March 30, 2007 meeting is important at Mr. Levant’s trial, because the students said they’d asked for a rebuttal piece in the magazine by “a mutually acceptable author.” Mr. Porter disagreed with that characterization, and Mr. Awan himself testified that though that had been the students’ plan, the meeting deteriorated so fast they never got a chance to even make the demand.

It’s in part for that reason, it appears, that Mr. Levant deemed Mr. Awan a liar.

In any case, then there was Greg Felton, one of the video witnesses.

He sounded for all the world like a 9/11 “truther.” For instance, he said he’s quite sure no planes ever flew into the World Trade Center and that the buildings’ collapse was due rather to the planting of mini hydrogen bombs in the towers, probably by, you guessed it, the Jews — and who also refers to Israel and the United States as “Isramerica” because in his view “Israel has so thoroughly bought off the Congress” the countries are essentially one.

Politics apparently has nothing on libel trials for the making of strange bedfellows.

Amusingly, Mr. Felton was also called by Mr. MacKinnon, because in all his prolific writing over the years, he allegedly may have accidentally written a purely factual paragraph, which is to say, one that may favour Mr. Levant in this trial.

Almost six years ago, he quoted Mr. Awan in a year-ender he wrote for the Canadian Arab News.

Mr. Awan was the public face of the Ontario human rights complaint and also testified at the one at the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal.

In the piece, Mr. Felton quoted Mr. Awan saying that despite the fact his side lost, “we attained our strategic objective — to increase the cost of publishing anti-Islamic material.”

However, during cross-examination by Mr. Awan’s lawyer, Brian Shiller, who read gleefully aloud from some of Mr. Felton’s other efforts, Mr. Felton’s views were sufficiently on the table that it’s dubious how much weight his evidence can be given by Ontario Superior Court Judge Wendy Matheson.

Mr. Levant will resume his testimony Friday — allegedly in a new, larger courtroom.

Mea culpa: In my first piece from this trial, I said that witness Naseem Mithoowani was called and questioned by Mr. Shiller; she was in fact questioned by Angela Chaisson, another of Mr. Awan’s lawyers.