Douglas Hewson Christie, RIP
April 1946 - March 11, 2013
Doug was an immensely brave man and a towering presence in Court. His height and firmness of bearing made an impact on many a judge, and, I suspect, many a miscreant or liar under cross-examination. Other lawyers have told me that Doug was one of the most intimidating cross-examiners in this Dominion. As a former client, (my firing for my political views by the Peel Board of Education and the libel charge by Richard Warman for calling him a "censor") I can testify that Doug was demanding and unrelenting that his clients organize and prepare their material.
My friend of more than 30 years was motivated by a deep love of freedom and a suspicion of government and authority. Perhaps, in the best of ways, he was a symbol of the '60s, an era we both grew up in. It was an era that, however faultily, sought freedom. Neither of us was part of the "tune out, turn on" ethos of the time, but both of us deeply valued individual freedom. Doug lived to see what used to be common political culture of a largely European Canada -- "I disagree with you, but you have a right to your opinion" -- become the prissy, prune-faced political correctness of Canada today: agree with the minority agenda or you shut up!
One of his last legal acts was to review the catastrophic Supreme Court of Canada Whatcott decision, where a fervent fundamentalist pamphleteer was found guilty and fined by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission for passing out leaflets critical of homosexual teachings in public schools. Doug sadly concluded: "Free speech as we knew it in Canada, is dead." Having read this revolutionary decision, I, who at first dismissed the conclusion as the pessimism of a dying man, believe his grim view is right.
Doug's unshakable courage in the face of press abuse -- he was once called a "perverted monster" by a Vancouver talk show host for having defended revisionist publisher Ernst Zundel -- put others in the legal profession to shame, Doug didn't just believe in a client's right to a full and proper defence, he really did believe in freedom of speech: that freedom of expression is the gift you must give to your worst enemy, he told a CAFE meeting in Toronto, December 2, 2012. Many other lawyers lost that belief. Terry Tremaine, later one of Doug's clients and another Richard Warman free speech victim, called on seven Regina law firms to represent him in a "judicial review" (appeal) against the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision finding him guilty of spreading "hate" on the Internet. Finding out that this was a controversial free speech case running headlong into political correctness, not a single Regina law firm would touch Mr. Tremaine's case.
Murderers, child molesters, rape-kidnap-murder perpetrators like Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, or more recently accused murderer and butcher Luka Magnotta, had no trouble finding counsel. The media and other bien pensants would praise their lawyers as brave and creative lawyers. Yet, Doug Christie, who stood up for non-violent freethinkers assailed for having unpopular beliefs was often reviled in the press and in the legal profession.
The Doug I knew was a sensitive and proud man. He was a deeply moral man. He did not seek notoriety. He felt the rejections and condemnations deeply. Yet, Doug felt a higher imperative -- individual freedom and liberty. These had once been the values of our generation. But many of the free speech advocates of the 1960s had grown old and paunchy and grey and had been subverted into Frankfurt School political correctness. They had become the very repressive, narrow-minded Establishment they had once reviled. Doug never lost that youthful passion for freedom.
Ranged, often with the highly talented legal researcher Barbara Kulazska at his side, against the endless money and batteries of lawyers of various repressive government bodies, Doug Christie was a one man Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke holding back the tidal wave of repression. His achievements were many. He singlehandedly got Canada's archaic "false news" law used to try to silence Ernst Zundel ruled unconstitutional. His persistence in the Terry Tremaine Sec. 319 "hate law" case got the charges stayed for undue delay,
Doug's towering presence in the defence of freedom will be sorely missed. The would-be censors, the minority zealots who would silence any opinion but their own and those who hate the unfettered thoughts of free men and women whenever they deviate from the prune-faced, fussy little orthodoxy of political correctness may feel a little freer to pursue their repressive instincts tonight with the passing of this great man.
Another important aspect of Doug Christie was his political life as an outspoken and often lonely champion of Western separation. I first met Doug Christie on a rainy late afternoon at the Vancouver television studios of the then famous Jack Webster Show. At the time, Doug apparently had something to do with the British Columbia provincial Conservative Party. Although a seemingly quiet man, as we exchanged a few words, I knew I had met a man with an imposing presence. we parted and I went in to do my interview with the irrascible Scot to promote my critique of foreign aid, the recently published book Down the Drain: A Critical Re-examination of Canadian Foreign Aid Policy.
I next met Doug when I travelled to Red Deer for a meeting to support a thoughtful school teacher Jim Keegstra who was being charged under Canada's notorious "hate law", section 319 of the Criminal Code. By now, Doug Christie was famous as a champion of Western separation.
The early 1980s were heady times. The arrogant Trudeau socialists had brought in the National Energy Programme. Alberta, devastated by a slump in oil prices, had ruined people walking away from their homes, on which they often owed more than what they were worth. Alberta was in near revolt. Doug Christie criss-crossed the West arguing for separation and independence. No longer should the West be bled dry by the East and held up with high prices for Eastern manufactured goods. He held up a vision of more populist and responsive government in a unilingual English country. State intrusion in ownership of guns would be reduced and, of course, anti-free speech laws would be abolished. The West would be a proud country of independent men and women, not a nanny state of Ottawa-controlled serfs.
Doug Christie's message was a powerful one. He spoke to packed meetings in halls across Western Canada. He packed the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton with several thousand people. His party the Western Canada Concept contested a by-election in Alberta and the separatist candidate Gordon Kessler was elected.
There were, of course, problems. The party tended to be run out of Doug Christie's briefcase. A flock of opportunists and not a few federalist agents joined the party. There was a lack of seasoned and experienced staff. Divisions followed and plagued the party.
In 1984, the Mulroney Conservatives were elected with a large representation of Western MPs. They repealed some of the worst abuses of the NEP. However, with their many neo-Liberal policies, they left many real populists and conservatives feeling betrayed. There arose a new populist party, the Reform Party, with the slogan "the West wants in." It was well-funded and seemed to offer a less radical answer to Western grievances.
Doug Christie soldiered on explaining his vision in the monthly Western Separatist Papers and later on the WCC website. The meetings were fewer and less well attended. The WCC ran a few candidates in each federal election, but the enthusiasm for separation had passed. In the past decade, the West has become rich. Saskatchewan, once an exporter of wheat and people, is now a "have" province. Alberta's oil sands are a job magnet.
So, was Doug Christie's vision of an independent West wrong? Only history will tell. For much of the 140-year long struggle for Irish independence, those pushing for an independent state were for long periods of time treated, even by many Irishmen, as crackpots. But their day came as it may come for Western Canadian Independence.
Whatever history's final judgment of Doug Christie's Western Canada Concept, he kept the faith and articulated a vision of a free and independent West with intelligence and dedication.
CANADIAN ASSOCIATION FOR FREE EXPRESSION