Doug Christie, controversial B.C. lawyer, dies at 66

Doug Christie, a Victoria, B.C., lawyer who defended Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel of Toronto and Alberta teacher Jim Keegstra in a hate-speech case, has died at the age of 66.

Clients include ex-Nazi prison guard, Holocaust denier, Nazi sympathizer

Doug Christie, seen here in a 2008 photo, has died at the age of 66. (Geoff Howe/Canadian Press)

Supporters called Victoria lawyer Doug Christie a staunch defender of free speech, while detractors criticized his legal defence of people charged with hate crimes.

Christie died in hospital on Monday night at the age of 66.

His wife, Keltie Zubko, told The Canadian Press that her husband, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011, died of metastatic liver disease.

She said Christie was surrounded by his family.

Defended ex-Nazi, Holocaust denier

Christie's client list includes former Nazi prison guard Michael Seifert, Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel and self-proclaimed Nazi-sympathizer Paul Fromm.

'Free speech is the one thing you have to give to your worst enemy if you want to keep it for yourself.'—Doug Christie

Zundel, who maintains the Holocaust never occurred, was convicted in 1985 for "spreading false news" about Jewish people and sentenced to 15 months in jail.

Seifert was convicted of war crimes and eventually extradited to Italy where he was to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Another of Christie's cases concerned aboriginal leader David Ahenakew, who was stripped of his Order of Canada for comments he made about Jews.

The legal saga over Ahenakew's comments ended in 2009 when Saskatchewan justice officials decided not to appeal his acquittal.

Christie later argued that Ahenakew should get back the Order of Canada.

Christie also defended Alberta teacher Jim Keegstra, who was initially convicted of promoting hatred against Jewish people but his conviction was later thrown out by the Alberta appeal court.

Christie also found himself in trouble with the B.C. Law Society in 2008 when he was accused of professional misconduct and slapped with a hefty fine.

In 2003, Christie had authorized three subpoenas that contained documents affixed with a forged court stamp. Although Christie was not found to be involved in the forged subpoenas, the law society said he did ask his untrained client to prepare the documents.

In its decision, the Law Society of British Columbia ordered Christie to pay two fines totalling $22,500 but noted it did not want to give him a fine he wasn't able to pay because it might force him out of practising law.

"The panel described Christie's work as a valuable contribution to our free society, often performed pro bono or for greatly reduced fees, and stated its desire that Christie be able to continue with that work," said a society bulletin.

Defender of free speech

On his website, Christie, who attended law school at the University of British Columbia from 1967-1970, described himself as 'Canada's most prolific defender of free speech."

Christie also acknowledged that because of the clients he represented, he was seen as a right-wing extremist, a Nazi, or an anti-Semite — smear words he said were inaccurate and unfair.

He said he was an individualist who recognizes every other person's right to be so assessed.

"It was principles of freedom that caused me to step off the beaten path" wrote Christie.

"It is the love of freedom that keeps me off the path of slaves."

In an interview that aired on As It Happens earlier this year, Christie told CBC's Rick MacInnes-Rae that he had paid a personal price for his work. He said his detractors broke his windows more than a dozen times before he finally boarded them up, spat on him on the street and sent him death threats.

But Christie persevered, strongly believing in what he was doing. He often said "free speech is the one thing you have to give to your worst enemy if you want to keep it for yourself."

Christie told MacInnes-Rae he was concerned there would be no one to continue his work once he was gone. At the time, doctors had told Christie he had about six months left to live, but Christie said it sometimes felt like less.

"It isn't something that anyone else was willing to do while I was alive, with the exception of Peter Lindsay," he said, referring to a lawyer who also once defended Zundel. "I don't know if there will be a whole lot of people willing to do it after I'm dead. But, you know, it's essential, in my opinion."

Christie said his only regret was that he wouldn't able to carry on with other cases.

"I know that people that I've defended need help and I feel like I'm going to be letting them down."

Listen to the full As It Happens interview.

With files from CBC News