Ezra Levant's 'crazy town' newspaper column leads to law society hearing

The Law Society of Alberta has issued citations against lawyer and media personality Ezra Levant relating to remarks he made about the province's human rights commission.

Levant made the comments as a journalist and has a right to 'fair and free comment,' says his lawyer

Ezra Levant, a political commentator formerly of Sun News, is facing a Law Society of Alberta hearing for a newspaper column he wrote called Next Stop Crazy Town about the Alberta Human Rights Commission. (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press)

The Law Society of Alberta has issued citations against lawyer and media personality Ezra Levant relating to remarks he made about the province's human rights commission.

CBC News has obtained a copy of the citations which allege Levant's comments were "inappropriate and unbecoming" of a lawyer.

A conduct committee panel directed Levant be charged with "conduct deserving of sanction" after remarks made by Levant in regards to the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

Those comments stem from a March 2014 Sun News opinion column called Next stop, crazy town.

"But with human rights commissions, when you think you've hit rock bottom, you haven't," wrote Levant in his article. "The crazy keeps going down. You gotta get out your shovel and dig to get to the crazy that's underneath the crazy."

Complaint launched by lawyer Arman Chak

The complaint was launched by lawyer Arman Chak in March of last year, but was initially dismissed by a formal complaints reviewer without a hearing.

The reviewer emphasized the high threshold for misconduct, that Levant was acting as a journalist at the time of making the statements, and that in his view there was no reasonable prospect that a hearing panel would find Levant's conduct breached the code of conduct.

Chak appealed on Oct. 28. The panel granted Chak's appeal seven months later, paving the way for a hearing on the citations.

Chak and Levant have an unfriendly history dating back to 2008 when Levant posted a column online called Inside the HRCs: Who is Arman Chak?

According to the transcript of the appeal hearing, Levant's lawyer James Rooney said, "there is obviously quite a bit of malice between these gentlemen."

In his 2008 article, Levant questions Chak's impartiality when it comes to files he handled while working as a lawyer for the commission. He also called Chak a "Pakistani radical" and a "chauvinist." 

"The appeal panel does not wish to be seen involving itself in the relationship between Mr. Levant and Mr. Chak," reads part of the decision. "The appeal panel is, however, quite disturbed by Mr. Levant's statements relating to the Alberta Human Rights Commission and his direct reference to the Alberta Human Rights Commission as 'crazy town.' 

"In the appeal panel's view, this is a direct attack that is not professionally responsible and flies in the face of the commentary dictated above with respect to any criticism being temperate and well-reasoned."

Comments made as journalist, argues lawyer

Rooney argued his client made the comments as a journalist and had a right to "fair and free comment," and that he should be entitled to criticize because it is not in his capacity as a lawyer. He also emphasized that Levant's job as a journalist is "to comment on matters of public interest and that the law society should not moderate public debate."

The panel members disagreed.

"We are of the view that ... Mr. Levant is subject to regulation by the Law Society of Alberta," reads the decision.

According to the Law Society, a hearing to review the citations has not yet been scheduled. If he's found guilty, Levant could be reprimanded, fined, suspended or disbarred. At any point in the process the lawyer involved can apply to resign from profession rather than face public discipline.

The society says Levant's practising status with the society is inactive, meaning he's a member but is not insured and not entitled to practice law.

Chak was elected as a law society bencher in November 2014.

In another twist to the story, a lawsuit alleging wrongful dismissal was filed by Chak against the Alberta Human Rights Commission in January 2015 for his termination from the organization which happened on Nov. 3, 2014.

When contacted for comment, Levant's lawyer reiterated his stance that his client was acting in his role as a journalist, not a lawyer when criticizing the Human Rights Commission.