Doug Christie – The Battling Barrister

Douglas Christie, the courageous Canadian lawyer known as the “battling barrister”, died on March 11th a month before his 67th birthday.  He was perhaps best known for his vigour and tenacity in defending the Canadian-German publisher Ernst Zündel during more than a decade of legal persecution.  His client had been accused in a 1983 “human rights” tribunal and at criminal trials in 1985 and 1988 of “spreading false news”, a legal concept drawn from mediaeval England but applied in this case to Mr Zündel’s publication of the booklet Did Six Million Really Die?, which questioned the orthodox historical account of the deliberate murder of Jews in homicidal gas chambers.

Doug Christie (centre) with his wife and fellow lawyer Keltie Zubko (left) and their most famous client, German-Canadian publisher Ernst Zundel, outside the Zundel appeal hearing in September 1989.

At the end of the second Zündel trial in 1988 Doug Christie insisted that the courts had no business dictating versions of history, which “by definition, is always an opinion.”  In effect this argument eventually prevailed.  Although Ernst Zündel was convicted and his first appeal failed, the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately agreed with Mr Christie, ruling that S.181 (the law of “spreading false news”) was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled the “greatest danger of S.181 lies in the undefined phrase ‘injury or mischief to a public interest’, which is capable of almost infinite extension.”

Imre Finta

In May 1990 Mr Christie successfully defended the retired Hungarian policeman Imre Finta in Canada’s first ever “war crimes” trial – a prosecution which in his closing speech to the jury he described as “a futile and unjustified exercise”, pointing out that “it’s the practice of states that win wars to judge those who lose them.”  Describing the war crimes law as a “convoluted and diabolically twisted piece of legislation”, he urged the jury to send a message to governments around the world that “the war is over”.  The jury agreed; sadly governments did not, and have continued to intensify legal restrictions on freedom of historical and scientific enquiry.

Mr Christie’s first landmark case was in 1983 when Jim Keegstra, a schoolteacher in Alberta, several hundred miles from Mr Christie’s home province of British Columbia, was dismissed from his job and charged under Canada’s “hate crime” legislation for expressing his opinions about Jewish history and the Holocaust.  Keegstra was a devout Christian and a former activist in the Social Credit Party, once a powerful force in Canadian politics.  Doug Christie argued in Keegstra’s defence that his client was expressing legitimate religious views.  One did not have to agree with those views, and some Jews might find them offensive – just as Keegstra might find Judaism offensive.  However the Canadian constitution was intended to protect religious and political freedom, so “hate crimes” seeking to criminalise certain views should be struck down as unconstitutional.

The Keegstra trial began on the precise 60th anniversary of the most famous attempt to criminalise opinion in the American courts, the so-called “monkey trial” of 1925, when Tennessee science teacher John Scopes was prosecuted for attempting to teach Darwin’s theory of evolution.  Keegstra was in a sense the modern Scopes, accused of perpetrating the modern heresy of “anti-semitism”.

Defending Keegstra in his 1987 appeal, Mr Christie argued that as part of his Christian outlook his client believed that a group of Jews (including Zionists) had been “seeking economic and political opportunism in the guise of religion,” and that “Mr Keegstra said this was wrong, contrary to Christ and contrary to all men.”

Consequently Mr Christie argued that the “hate speech” law used to convict Mr Keegstra was an unconstitutional infringement of basic freedoms.   The Appeal Court agreed and quashed the conviction, but eventually the Supreme Court voted 4-3 to reinstate the judgment.  The argument in the Supreme Court was of fundamental worldwide importance: did the social “benefit” of curbing extremism and promoting tolerance outweigh the constitutional evil of restricting free speech? This restriction would not apply solely to those few people prosecuted but also, in the words of the dissenting Supreme Court judgment which backed Doug Christie, “those individuals not caught may find their expression restricted by the fear of running afoul of a vague and subjective law.”

Eventually the Supreme Court of Canada found against Keegstra, but their December 1990 judgment was only by the narrowest margin of four justices to three.  The dissenting judges endorsed Mr Christie’s arguments, writing:  “…our commitment to the marketplace of ideas precludes us from presuming that those who promote hatred will be successful in fomenting it among the majority of Canadians.  Moreover, freedom of expression is an individual liberty of such importance that it can be overridden only by an extraordinarily weighty public goal.”

Soon after this Keegstra judgment Doug Christie began representing Malcolm Ross, another schoolteacher dismissed for “anti-semitism”, and again managed to win in the appeal courts, only to face ultimate defeat in the Supreme Court of Canada.

In these and other landmark cases, Doug Christie was a valiant champion of the public interest in objective law and unimpeded scholarship.

The A.K. Chesterton Trust provided a great service to friends of freedom around the world by transferring to DVD a video recording made in 1994 of an address by Doug Christie to an invited audience at Liss Forest, Hampshire.

Mr Christie was in the UK to represent the redoubtable patriot Lady Birdwood, who was being prosecuted under Britain’s notoriously oppressive race laws for daring to publish a pamphlet entitled The Longest Hatred.  The octogenarian Lady Birdwood was convicted of “inciting racial hatred” and given a three month suspended prison sentence.

Doug Christie visiting Arbroath Abbey in 2002

Doug Christie makes clear in the DVD his belief that the prosecution of Jane Birdwood was but one facet of a worldwide campaign against free research and the free expression of opinion.  He argued that the forces supporting, for example, the French Revolution used a supposed commitment to “individualism” to break up the traditional authority of Christendom.  These same forces having achieved power now oppose individualism in the name of their own dominant ideology. Anyone standing in the way of that dominant ideology must be demonised and crushed by the full force of the law.  Courageously and sustained by his traditional Catholic faith, Mr Christie stood up for the victims of this process in trials and civil actions across Canada and the United Kingdom.

He argues that today’s New World Order “has every bit as much intention of destroying Truth as Communism did in a more visible and brutal way,” and believes that it is the most honourable course to fight for the right to tell the truth.

Doug Christie’s most celebrated case was in defence of the German-Canadian artist and publisher Ernst Zündel.  At the instigation of Jewish activist Sabina Citron, Zündel was twice prosecuted in the Canadian courts for “hate crimes” in 1985 and 1988, before his conviction was finally overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1992.  His supposed crime of reporting “false news”, which dates back to the attempts of English kings and barons in the 13th century to suppress public criticism, was ruled unconstitutional.

In this DVD Doug Christie does not speak in detail about the Zündel case, as at that point in April 1994 he believed that Zündel had won and the story had ended with “Ernst Zündel a free man in Canada today.”  Sadly this optimism proved unfounded.  Having failed in their own courts, the Canadian authorities took action via their Human Rights Commission during the late 1990s.  Even after he moved to the USA and married a US citizen, Zündel was subjected to a judicial kidnapping near his Tennessee home in 2003 and deported to Canada, where a “national security” loophole was exploited to deport him to Germany in 2005.  He was imprisoned in Germany from 2005 to 2010.

Despite this eventual outcome, Doug Christie and Ernst Zündel will go down in history for pinning down “Holocaust historian” Raul Hilberg.  Asked by Doug Christie during the 1985 trial whether he could name a single scientific report that substantiated the use of any homicidal gas chamber during the Third Reich, Prof. Hilberg replied “I am at a loss.”

Doug Christie points out in this DVD that Ernst Zündel had to spend more than a million dollars to win his victories for free speech, but he argues that the many small and large donations to Zündel’s cause were contributions to the vital cause of building a “bulwark of freedom”: we must not wait “until the enemy is within our gates” but must support the defence of freedom wherever in the world the frontier happens to be at any moment: “We have a cause that transcends national boundaries.”

Outside the courtroom Doug Christie was active in attempting to redraw those national boundaries.  He believes that out of the failure of multiculturalism “smaller nations will emerge; better nations, true to themselves.”  In 1980 he founded the Western Canada Concept, a party that campaigned for the secession from Canada of its western provinces: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

In 2005 he formed the Western Bloc Party with similar objectives: candidates have included former schoolteacher Paul Fromm, who alongside Doug Christie and others organised the Canadian Free Speech League and promoted events by international free speech activists including Lady Michèle Renouf.

Towards the end of the 1994 DVD Doug Christie asks his audience: “Are we criminals that we must hide in a basement?”  It is thanks to the courage and commitment of activists such as this brave Canadian lawyer that at least some of our traditional freedoms and values survive in 2012.

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