Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Anticlimaxing in Ottawa: Warman v. Lemire

A packed room; hundreds turned away. Sweating tension in the faces of cowering, pallid operatives of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, wrenched from their burrows. Fearless defenders of free speech, the gleam of righteousness in their eyes, lightning flashing outside, as though in sympathy. China, gnawing on the bones of Tibet, pauses for a moment, raises her head and shivers. The hour of reckoning is at hand.

Well, umm, not quite. Let me set the scene, because that was far more interesting than the substance of the hearing (scroll down if you want to cut to the chase). And just before that, one note--today's non-event was liveblogged by Kady O'Malley, and by Marc Lemire, who shall have no link from me. If you want pitiless detail, that's where to go. I'm going to keep it all down to one post.

Today, dear readers, was an anti-climax from start to finish. Jay Currie turned out to be remarkably prescient this morning. The hearing was a one-day event to permit Marc Lemire's team to ask questions that had been disallowed at the hearing last year under section 37 of the Canada Evidence Act. These centred on the way that CHRC employees carry out their duties. Think the six or so weeks of hearings are done? Guess again. The next meeting is in June, location to be confirmed.

I was one of the first to arrive, followed by John Pacheco of SoCon or Bust, and then Mark Steyn, with a two-man entourage. The group of them got into a happy conversation, and like a pot set vigorously aboil, the waiting room was soon splattered by the frolicsome four: "radical secular left," "cultural relativism run amok," "post-modern world," "the mushy middle," etc.

Steyn did not disappoint, by the way. All of my prejudices and preconceptions were borne out. He is an insufferably smug man, his sense of self-importance positively oozing from his frame. He mentioned something about "Kinsella's cameraman": "Not me," I said. (Hey, Warren, I would have come close to winning a consolation prize, though, had cameras been permitted on the floor. Steyn shook hands with Paul Fromm. And he shook hands with Doug Christie.)

The hearing room was only a little over half-full. The place was a veritable Who's Who of Canadian fascists and assorted far-right propagandists. Fromm and Christie were part of the Lemire team. They sat together and wore matching black cowboy boots. Lemire himself--surprisingly corpulent, I suspect his Aryan warrior days are over--didn't utter a word all day. Why bother? His mouthpiece Barbara Kulaszka was never at a loss for words, and Christie, who looks eerily similar to the Walkin' Dude, thundered and hectored. Besides, as Fromm noted for the record, Richard Warman wasn't even present, and in fact hadn't attended the last twenty days of the hearings.

The affable old coot beside me, holding a handsome book about Ottawa that he had published himself, turned out to be Ian Verner Macdonald. He gave me his card. (He presented the book to Marc Steyn. On leaving, Steyn shook hands with him, too.) Sitting behind Macdonald, unless my eyes were playing tricks on me, was local Holocaust-denier Philip Belgrave. Alex Kulbashian was there as well, and the Free Dominion website moderators owners, Connie and Mark Fournier. Compared to them, spectators Deborah Gyapong and frequent commenter Peter seemed quite moderate and charming, and indeed I suspect they are, even without the comparison.
We had some good conversation. In fact I rather liked them--reasonable, civil, pleasant, wrong-headed....Most of the other people present were sitting with the former crowd. They all seemed to know each other.

But then, I knew quite a few people as well, as it happened. The head of security turned out to be a former labour liaison from the Ottawa Police; we've sparred with each other
in a friendly way for years. Dean Steacy, the CHRC investigator in the hot-seat for most of the day, was the President of the CHRC PSAC Local not that long ago, and we'd crossed paths quite a few times when I was a PSAC official. It was nice finally meeting the sprightly Kady O'Malley in person, who told me she was already receiving hateful mail from the Small Dead Animals crowd in response to her liveblogging. Quelle surprise.

Security was tight. Uniformed officers were stationed strategically, and some plainclothes folks with those little curly ear-thingies. (What are those plastic tubes for? Delivering nutrients?) All of us were frisked each time we entered the hearing room. But there was no need to worry: there were a couple of muscle-bound skinheads around, but the older generation of Nazis sported
love-handles and a goodly amount of grey hair. Portly Paul Fromm wore a pinstripe suit. Doug Christie removed his black cowboy hat in the august chamber. The skins behind me stopped chattering when the presiding Tribunal member, Athanasios Hadjis, took his place on the bench. Yes, the good grey system has a way of disciplining even the wilder and woolier elements of Canadian politics. (Michel Foucault had a thing or two to say about that.)

So, then, what happened?
Kulaszka started things off. Her first witness was the Director of the Law Enforcement Support Team at Bell Canada, who was able to provide the name and address of the person with an IP address matching "Jadewarr" at the same time as the latter posted to a far-right website. It wasn't Dean Steacy, though, who readily admitted later that he was "Jadewarr." Indeed, it was someone that no one in the room had ever heard of--and this mystery never did get solved. Trust the bone-headed Marc Lemire, though: he put up her name and address at his blogsite, exposing her to God-knows-what antics from the local neo-Nazi contingent. Later in the afternoon, when this became known, he was ordered to remove this information, but last I looked, it was still there.

Her second witness was Hannya Rizk, a diffident CHRC staffer. The aim was to try to show that she had been "trained" by Richard Warman while he was a CHRC investigator, and that she kept in touch with him about cases subsequently. Turns out he showed her how to use a couple of software packages, freely available on the Internet, to find out how to track down the owners of websites.

Marc Lemire was her first full investigation. Had Warman mentioned the Lemire case to her during her "training?" No. Doug Christie then took a turn at it. Did Warman tell her he and others were posting messages to "target sites?" No. The same question, asked again. No. And no. And no. He was fishing in an empty pond. No more questions.

Third witness, the low-key, completely unflappable Dean Steacy. Kulaszka and Christie went after him like tigers for the rest of the day. They didn't leave a mark on him.

Yes, he was "Jadewarr." This was short for "Jade Warrior," the protagonist of a novel he liked as a teenager. He posted on several right-wing sites in the course of investigations. He did so to try to elicit information. He had to register on the sites, because public access was restricted. He would monitor websites when a complaint had been received, or if there was the potential for one--when he had been notified by a would-be complainant that a complaint was in the works. No, he wouldn't name people who did not end up submitting a formal complaint. They had an expectation of confidentiality, and he was going to honour that, period. Margot Blight, counsel for the CHRC, rose to his defence, citing the four-prong Wigmore test. That was the end of that.

The day wore on. On occasion,
the legally blind Steacy would ask his interrogators to show a little courtesy and explain what documents they were referring to. (Fromm had a go at him, demanding to know how he could do his Internet work when he was blind.) When questions had already been asked and answered, Steacy would point it out. He brooked no nonsense, in his understated way. No, he didn't discuss any cases with Warman. Yes, his manager knew about his postings. No, he didn't work on any file with Warman.

Then the conversation turned to what the respondent's team thought could be collusion between various police forces and the CHRC.
Christie thought he was onto something, and kept plugging away, but for all his casts he kept reeling in old shoes. Information is indeed shared between the Commission and the police. Steacy and other investigators have the power to issue warrants, so that it wasn't a case of improperly relying on police powers to accomplish what they could not do legally themselves. Does the CHRC "orchestrate" criminal prosecutions? No.

The session mercifully ended around 6:00 pm. Conclusion? No smoking gun. No solid indication that CHRC investigators had done anything wrong at all. No collusion with Richard Warman. No Perry Mason moment. Anti-climax. I can't wait until June. I'm thinking of heading up to Oakville, or Mississauga, or wherever the next session is held. Have blog, will travel. There might even be an ending to this saga someday.

UPDATE: (March 27)

I have been reminded that Mark and Connie Fournier are no longer the owners of Free Dominion. There's a bit of a saga there--but I'll let them explain.

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