Rex Murphy: Ezra Levant wrote a book critical of the Liberals. Now he’s being investigated

Editor's Note: In this article, Rex Murphy is careful to say that the behaviour of Canada’s Elections Commissioner in investigating journalist Ezra Levant for advertising a book critical of Justin Trudeau is not Soviet with a capital “S,” but is indeed lower-case “soviet.” And that should be enough to concern any Canadian who knows never to take our freedoms, especially our freedom of expression, for granted. What better term than “soviet” would describe a situation where a journalist, under threat of penalty, is forced to go to the Commissioner’s office and explain why he did not register his book criticizing the prime minister, while being told neither the nature of the complaint against him nor who launched it. Murphy notes that this whole exercise was a farce, but it is more frightening than amusing.

Can anybody give the name of any other book, ever, which has been the subject of an investigation by the Commissioner of Canada Elections?

Ezra Levant of The Rebel speaks to students at Ryerson University in Toronto on March 22, 2017.

According to no less an oracle than Robert W. Service “there are strange things done in the midnight sun.” That of course is the opening line of the famous and instantly memorable ballad, The Cremation of Sam McGee. I also very much like “The Arctic trails have their secret tales/ that would make your blood run cold.” Now Ezra Levant is not Sam McGee, nor does his The Rebel operate out of the Arctic, but his recent interaction with two investigators from the office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, while it may not freeze the blood, does drop the temperature by more than a few degrees. Mr. Levant surreptitiously videoed that interaction and it is easily found on YouTube or at The Rebel site. The absolute gist of the situation has only three elements. Mr. Levant wrote a book critical of the Liberal government. He advertised it via billboard and lawn signs. (For the unwary, it is a feature of publishing a book that it be advertised, and, surprisingly, even a book criticizing a government.) The Elections Commissioner wrote to him that he thereby “contravened the (Canada Elections) Act … having incurred over $500 on elections advertising expenses.” So he’s summoned, under threat of penalty, to come to the Commissioner’s office and explain himself to two of its investigators, to tell why he did not “register” his book. Many thoughts occur. Here are a couple. Can anybody give the name of any other book, ever, which has been the subject of an investigation by the Commissioner of Canada Elections? Is the Elections Commissioner starved for actual work? Is this “investigation” (the scare quotes are necessary here) a Canadian analogue, via Alice in Wonderland and The Friendly Giant, of the American saga of “Russian collusion?” When will PEN Canada, defender of authors and journalists, take up the banner for Mr. Levant? Of the interview itself there are some very striking matters. The investigators resist, with an obduracy that is hard not to admire, telling him what is in the complaint that they are investigating. Refuse to tell him who launched the complaint. The investigators insist the secrecy is necessary “to keep the integrity of the investigation right now — you’ll understand that we can’t share everything we have.” By everything here, they mean anything. To keep things in perspective here “The Libranos: What the media won’t tell you about Justin Trudeau’s corruption” is not “The Gulag Archipelago,” and Mr. Levant is not Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and only in a mock-heroic, absurd world would the office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections provoke an association with the defunct KGB. So I can only call it soviet with a very, very small “s” to ask a person to answer a complaint, the details and origin of which he is not allowed, for “security reasons,” to know. What possible threat to Canadian security on any imaginable level — to whom or to what — could there be in telling a person accused of something the substance of the actual accusation?

The Peace Tower is seen on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 23, 2019.

However trivial this farce is, and it is trivial, it somehow fits a pattern. This government, or the agencies of this government, are establishing a pattern of misusing the authority of the law in wayward manners. Just this week the news broke that cabinet minister Seamus O’Regan has incurred over $180,000 in costs at small claims court over a lawsuit with a Canadian veteran. (Good thing it wasn’t “big” claims court.) I will not rehearse the abuse and hounding of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman here except to note that the government went full thrust against an honourable man, raided his house and tarnished his reputation, only to fold when challenged in court. There is a great looseness of judgment — in serious matters and in trivial ones, too — that is at the very least troubling. On the Levant affair, the very best thing for the Elections Commissioner would be to drop it fast. The investigation is silly, and the institution that guards our electoral process is eroding its prestige in this most vital role. If the advertisements for “The Libranos” warped the recent election, then elections in Canada are so fragile I’m not sure we can afford to have any more.

This article was originally published by The National Post on January 31, 2020, and can be viewed on their website by clicking here.

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