Osgoode Hall v Mark Steyn

By skepticlawyer

This whole Mark Steyn fooferaw just gets slimier and slimier.

It appears that Canada’s leading law school is busily turning out the Human Rights equivalent of ambulance chasers. The main man on Steyn’s case (referred to as ‘Head Sock’ all over steynonline) is one Kharrum Awan, a recent graduate of Osgoode Hall School of Law (a very fine school, I might add – I count one recent graduate as a personal friend and another long-ago graduate is one of my tutors). He’s been forum shopping all over Canada in an attempt to nail Steyn’s arse to the wall:

Mr. Awan, with the financial backing of the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) and the help of several other recent Osgoode grads, has launched hate-speech challenges against Mr. Steyn and Maclean’s at the Canadian, Ontario and British Columbia human rights commissions. He and his co-plaintiffs are demanding the magazine give Islamic messages space equal to the amount it devoted to Mr. Steyn’s work.

At a conference on the weekend, Mr. Awan betrayed his misunderstanding of the freedoms of speech and the press. He told the Canadian Arab Federationthat Muslims must “demand that right to participate” in national media. “And we have to tell them, you know what, if you’re not going to allow us to do that, there will be consequences. You will be taken to the human rights commission, you will be taken to the press council, and you know what? If you manage to get rid of the human rights code provisions [on hate speech], we will then take you to the civil courts system. And you know what? Some judge out there might just think that perhaps it’s time to have a tort of group defamation, and you might be liable for a few million dollars.”

Okay, he’s full of piss and wind – we’ve established that much. I don’t need to refute his arguments on that score – we’ve both done that already. What concerns me is his relationship to his old law school, and to his employers in the Canadian court system.

Many law schools have what’s known in the business as ‘pro-bono programs’. Oxford has one. So does Osgoode Hall, if this Canada-wide site is to be believed. These provide great CV-stuffers for those wanting to go to the Bar, clerking or into a top-tier firm. It’s always amusing to watch people desperately keen to climb the corporate law greasy pole get suddenly passionate about indigenous rights, domestic violence or prison conditions. Of course, some do actually believe in it. It allows them to keep thinking that lawyers are a force for good in the world years after their fellow students have seen the light. Personally, I didn’t touch pro-bono with a 10 foot pole, not being capable of maintaining the pretense for an entire term.

Some schools go a bit further, and make the pro-bono work part of an official subject. They’re also very choosy about projects they take on. However, even schools that don’t go down the subject route cover themselves very carefully:

Oxford Pro Bono Publico is a programme run by the Law Faculty of the University of Oxford, an exempt charity (and a public authority for the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act). The programme assists solicitors and barristers who are themselves acting on a pro bono basis in the preparation of materials for legal work which they undertake for the public good or in the public interest. The programme does not itself provide legal advice, represent clients or litigate in courts or tribunals. The University accepts no responsibility or liability for the work which its members carry out in this context. The onus is on the solicitors or barristers in receipt of the programme’s assistance to establish the accuracy and relevance of whatever they receive from the programme; and they will indemnify the University against all losses, costs, claims, demands and liabilities which may arise out of or in consequence of the work done by the University and its members.

You see, the pro-bono work rides on the back of the law school’s resources, and unless it’s carefully managed, it can involve a state institution funded out of the taxpayer’s pocket ‘maintaining’ a suit while not actually being a proper plaintiff. Oxford – and other responsible law schools – make sure that other people do that bit, not the law school itself, for a very simple reason: it’s illegal in lots of places.

If Kharrum Awan is actually providing legal advice and representing the Canadian Islamic Congress, I want to know what links he has to Osgoode Hall. And I want to know if he’s abusing their pro-bono program resources or people involved in their pro-bono program. Because if he is, no matter how infected with PC the place may be, they should kick his arse to the moon.

Now for some law clerking funny-business. Here’s our man Awan clerking at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (he’s one of the people in this pic). And here he is purporting to represent the CIC while still a clerk. Note to Mr Awan. Clerks do not take sides. Repeat after me: Clerks do not take sides. Now go and write it out a thousand times until it penetrates your thick skull. Clerks do not take sides. Your first loyalty is to the court, and especially your judge/s.

Everything about this matter reeks, in ways that I haven’t even begun to grasp fully. I’ve actually come around to the cynics’ view that it would be better for Canada if Steyn lost before the tribunal and this ugly motherfucker of a case made its way all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court. I don’t know what strike-down powers there are under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but surely it must be possible to excise these laws – and the toxic victimology they represent – from Canada’s statute books.

UPDATE: There’s a great deal more on this character here. I was going to link to several relevant posts, but they seem to be a series, so you’re better off just scrolling down and pausing each time you see the name ‘Kharrum Awan’. What a guy.

UPDATE II: Tim Dunlop over at Blogocracy has a useful discussion of our stuff. Very much worth a look. The two Tims (the other being Tim Blair) and Andrew Bolt are far and away the pick of the MSM bloggers (it probably helps that both Tims started out in the independent blogosphere), in that all three actually participate in their own comments threads.

UPDATE III: I learn via Tree of Knowledge that Ezra Levant isn’t just in the shit through Mark Steyn, but also has a separate action pending against him from these clowns. Levant published the Danish Muhammad cartoons, and is now in serious financial difficulty.

UPDATE IV: Tim Blair also does a nice round-up on this issue, discussing our stuff along with some overseas reactions, and providing some background on Ezra Levant’s circumstances.

35 Comments

  1. Apple77
    Posted June 10, 2008 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    ‘Toxic victimology’. That’s beautifully put.

  2. pete m
    Posted June 10, 2008 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    It will be an interesting decision. Does the tribunal maintain their 100% conviction record, and start taking on big media, or do they run from the political heat?

    Some of the “evidence” admitted during the hearing beggars belief.

    Funnily enough though, the 1 Islam expert called by the complainers actually backed Steyn’s article through all of the major points, to the extent of being commended by Porter QC as a genuine expert of no fear or favour.

    I haven’t had time to digest the nuances in the case, and the strategy of the defence (most simply say they will wait for the appeal), and appreciate your thoughts above.

    ps bub 2 due around 1pm tomorrow. 3 weeks off work. Not sure which I look forward to more (lol – kidding).

  3. John Greenfield
    Posted June 10, 2008 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    SL

    Correct me if I am wrong, but plaintiffs receive the benefit of full state funding for their case, while the defendants receive zip. So, they could in fact bankrupt a Steyn.

  4. Posted June 10, 2008 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Yep, the plaintiffs are fully funded by the state, but you do actually have to be a plaintiff. Awan is hovering in between ‘plaintiff’ and ‘legal representative’ in ways that may be indicative of his fitness (or lack thereof) to practice law.

    [Like LE, I should probably disclose that I’m a former law clerk, too].

  5. Sinclair Davidson
    Posted June 10, 2008 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    This is a gift that will keep giving for a long time. Unfortunately the Victorian equivalent fizzled after one case – and we’ve heard nothing since. Our Canadian friends, however, look to be going the whole hog.

  6. Posted June 10, 2008 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Pete’s right about the 100% conviction rate, too. And the pantywaist who said that ‘free speech is not relevant in this case’.

    What I want to know is this: where do they find these people? People so wound up and easily wounded, people so utterly sure they have the right to control what other people think of them? Control is all fine and dandy and we’d all like a bit more of it from time to time, but this is madness.

  7. Posted June 10, 2008 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    ‘Litigation neurosis’.

    No, I’m not taking the piss, a guy I worked with briefly in plaintiff law used to call it that. He finished up being a firm advocate of the Kiwi system – capped compensation, mandatory cover – simply due to the distorting effects the adversarial system has on litigants.

  8. JC
    Posted June 10, 2008 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    To be perfectly honest the best argument I’ve seen was Ken Parish’s thread at troppo on this subject. The guy would make a fine judge some day. He did a good job of explaining the whole thing and why he thought it was wrong Steyn is getting beaten up.

    The genesis of this fiasco (and I could be wrong here) is as a result of the Quebec problems between the frogs and the Anglos from years past. I read somewhere that multi-culturalism first started in Canada.

    I haven’t read Steyn for ages primarily because his whole Islamic schtik was getting really boring. After reading France is getting overrun with Muslims 20 times in the row it got a little boring.

    I don’t blame Muslims for using the law to gain an advantage because if the stupid disgraceful law is there they along with the Anglos or the Frogs are perfectly within their rights to use it.

    As I said once before blow back is a bitch when it comes to these things. These laws need to be scrapped and the bastards who thought them up tarred and feathered. I don’t blame Canadian Muslims about this.

    I hope it ends up making these bastards look like crap.

  9. John Hasenkam
    Posted June 10, 2008 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    “My sis has worked as both a plaintiff lawyer and a defendant lawyer in workplace injury claims. She was saying the other day that plaintiffs often get obsessed about their injury such that it ruins their lives.”

    A recent study found that a “macho attitude”can help ward off potential PTSD. Another recent study found that “talking over problems”, a favourite of psychologists, may make matters worse- I *believe* this is more true of men than women. A long time ago I adopted a very simple approach to this: the more you focus on something, the bigger that something becomes, only to learn much later that there is, very tentatively now, a neurobiological basis to this- simple reinforcement basically, if you keep thinking about something the neural function is strengthened so that thinking comes more easily to mind. There is even evidence in experts that their area of expertise correlates with sizes of the relevant cerebral regions. In my personal experience those who are very health conscious seem to get sick more often than me. It is true of psychology students, once they start learning about the symptoms of psychopathology they start imagining all sorts of things about themselves and those around them.

    In relation to the complainants, the “halo effect ” might be relevant. This idea is simple: we attribute to people who possess quality A to also possess qualities b,c … . Thus those attacking Steyn may imagine he really hates Muslims as individuals and plans ill for them.

    Thus people who are concerned to “raise the consciousness” of a particular issue may be raising the issue to completely unrealistic heights.

  10. Posted June 10, 2008 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    And the only way the laws will get rolled is if Steyn loses here and then appeals. And it will also require a Supreme Court with some cojones.

  11. mick
    Posted June 10, 2008 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    Skeptic,

    re update III if you haven’t been aware of Ezra bringing this whole stinking HRC corpse thing into the light you should start going through his archives. It is far more surreal than anything that’s happened to Steyn. Richard “the most offended man in the world” Warman & HRC lawyer Giacomo ‘I don’t feel serene’ Vigna feel offended & mocked. But I think Warman ended feeling not so offended he wanted to make his claim before the level discovery sets in. Sorry if you know all this already. They both share the same problem as Awan of having memory lapses & being less than truthful on the stand. It must be a calling.

  12. John Greenfield
    Posted June 11, 2008 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    John H

    On the potential for the social work/counsellor priest/esses to make things worse, I read a lot of research (in the late 1990s) suggesting the whole “date rape” industry was largely a creation of these priests and priestesses.

  13. John Greenfield
    Posted June 11, 2008 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    You can also bet your bottom dollar there is a whole gaggle of authoritarian white atheist bourgeois Leftists behind all this.

  14. John Hasenkam
    Posted June 11, 2008 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    John G,

    And if memory serves me correctly the whole repressed memory – child sex abuse issue began with two fundamentalist Christian psychiatrists in Philadelphia. Then everyone picked it up, one would think that after Elizabeth Loftus we would have been much more savvy about the vagaries of memories.

    Please refrain from mentioning the Latte Left around me. As I said to a friend recently: I have much more respect for the right wingers who freely admit their pursuit of wealth than those LLs who invoke moral and environmental causes while driving their 4WDs, watching their pennies, not helping charities, being bourgeois …

  15. John Greenfield
    Posted June 11, 2008 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    John H

    I shall try my darndest to so refrain, but cannot make any promises. 😉

  16. John Hasenkam
    Posted June 11, 2008 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Hot off the presses, what was I saying previously about dwelling on issues?

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080609103225.htm

    Expecting To Be Treated With Prejudice May Be Self-fulfilling Prophecy, Study Suggests

    “Those female participants who told us men stereotyped them and treated them with prejudice saw rejection and contempt on the animated men’s faces more readily and for a longer period of time than they did on the women’s faces,”

  17. Posted June 11, 2008 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Of course, some do actually believe in it. It allows them to keep thinking that lawyers are a force for good in the world years after their fellow students have seen the light.

    First semseter of law. Subject Law in Context which discusses the political, economic, social, blah, blah context of contemporary litigation. The lectures almost always consist of a phone link to one of the lawyers involved.

    One week: Superleague, News Ltd attempts to break the Rugby League in order to create superleague. On the line is a solicitor (I seem to remember) working to break the two tiers of contracts that effectively make up the Rugby League.

    Lecturer: Yes sometimes it’s about money and sometimes it’s about principle…

    Solicitor: No. It’s always about money. 🙂

  18. Posted June 11, 2008 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Adrien, you must have been a Griffith boy… cos I’ve been the lawyer on the other end of the phone in at least one of those classes!

  19. Posted June 11, 2008 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Hey John G, I get the feeling you want to say something, make a comment. C’mon don’t be shy. It’s okay. 🙂

    authoritarian white atheist bourgeois Leftists

    Your nemeses yes. You need an acronym: AWABL. Works dunnit?

    I myself am a different kind of AWABL: anarcho-looney, white, agnostic, bohemian layabout. I’m not behind anything that isn’t at least 25% proof.

  20. Posted June 11, 2008 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Really Skeptic? Is it all about money? 🙂

    I was a Griffith boy but not for law – I was QUT for law. Sick to death of Griffith by then. Went back for a visit a couple years back, lots of wine bars that weren’t there when I was – WHY NOT!!!

    But the forest niche we used to smoke joints in was still intact.

    Ah the Humanities, your time is so flexible you can literally get blotto all day and struggle all night to cough up something coherant so that you can then get back to to the blotto.

    And they say it doesn’t prepare you for the workforce. 🙂

  21. Posted June 11, 2008 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Not necessarily all about the money, but very seldom about pure principle. The law is about many things, and complex litigation will, as a general rule, have a great deal buried in it.

  22. Posted June 11, 2008 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Not necessarily all about the money,

    Of course not. There’s ego as well. 🙂

    I would’ve been a great lawyer but it would’ve made me a shithouse person. It takes a certain something not to become a jerk I think. That goes double for doctors in my humble experience.

  23. John Greenfield
    Posted June 12, 2008 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Well I can trump you all. That solicitor is a very old friend of mine! 🙂 Oh, and Adrien I certainly do not see YOU as an AWABL. Few people with IQs above 115 are. 😉

  24. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted June 16, 2008 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    Just for clarification… is saying that you think someone’s beliefs are a “crock of sh*t” vilification, or just a statement of strongly held personal opinion?

  25. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted June 16, 2008 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    Oh and I loved the chicago incident highlighted by Blair…

    Mahmoud Alkhazaleh, 53, of the 5500 block of North Mango Avenue also was charged with aggravated battery and vehicle invasion in a June 9 attack on a man who allegedly had honked his horn to prod Alkhazaleh to step out of the path of his truck, according to court documents. Alkhazaleh called the victim a “blue-eyed devil” and an “ ‘American [expletive]’ during a physical attack that included throwing rocks and spitting,” according to court documents.

    Well you can see why Alkhazaleh was shirty. He was thinking about all that personal injury compensation he wasn’t able to claim for the American dude running his ass over without warning.

  26. Hank Ford
    Posted June 29, 2008 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately Osgoode Hall isn’t such a good school anymore, probably in the top 10 of Canadian law schools, but there are only 16 – and Kwan attests to this fact.

  27. Dale
    Posted June 29, 2008 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    You folks are only hearing about the high profile cases like Styne’s and Levant’s. It has gone a ways past sanity here in Canada. Here are a couple of other ridiculous examples of a bureaucracy, created with the best of intentions, that has badly run amok and, unfortunately, 90% of Canadians have never even heard of these commissions.
    Guy Earle is a stand up comedian who must now stand trial before the British Columbia Human rights commissions because he insulted a drunken lesbian heckler during his performance at a club in BC. Man, if you heckle a stand-up comedian you had better be thick skinned.
    Stephen Boissoin is a catholic priest who spoke against homosexuality in one of his sermons. This is his religious conviction. He has been already been before the Alberta Canadian Human Commission and has been sentenced very unreasonably.
    He must pay a $5000 penalty to the complainant, who IS NOT EVEN GAY. This is because the complainant suffered “ridicule” because he layed the complaint?????
    He must also apologize in writing to the complainant.
    He must publish, in the local newspaper, an apology and renounce his views on homosexuality.
    He must never, ever utter another “disparaging” word about gays anytime, anywhere, even in his private emails. Note that the word is “disparaging” and not “hateful”. This is really scary.
    This catholic priest is not entitled to his religious views. Remind anyone of pre-war Germany?
    There is a cartoon from BC showing a stand-up comedian, on stage, saying “Did you hear the one about the lesbian…er… muslim…er….better make that the Christian….” This is unfortunately, all too true.
    The Canadian Human Rights Commission has dismissed the case against Macleans magazine and Mark Styne. They chose self-preservation as opposed to certain suicide in taking on Macleans. They will keep on targeting the people who don’t have the resources to fight back. They are getting a bad name here, and about time. There is an RCMP investigation into the Canadian HRC, an investigation by the Privacy Commissioner, and there is going to be a parliamentary review of the CHRC.
    The British Columbia HRC has heard Styne’s case and has yet to render its verdict.
    The Ontario HRC said it didn’t have jurisdiction and wouldn’t hear the case but delivered a drive-by smear verdict to the press anyway.
    It is unbelievable that someone can be charged in multiple different HRCs in Canada for the same “hate thought crime”. It goes a little beyond the concept of double jeopardy.
    We are fighting back. Ezra Levant is leading the charge. I don’t know him personally but I have come to respect the man for his spirit and tenacity. The fight has produced the three investigations mentioned in the paragraph above.
    We will not relinquish our freedoms of speech, press, religion. We will continue the fight.

  28. Posted June 29, 2008 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    This is why I’ve adopted the cynical view, Dale – if Steyn loses at first instance and it goes to a proper court, then the whole institutional structure these ninnies have built for themselves will come apart. If he wins, they’ll go back to picking on people who can’t afford a team of lawyers.

    Maybe Osgoode Hall could start up a new pro-bono project? 😉

  29. Anonymous Law Grad
    Posted June 29, 2008 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Osgoode Hall is hardly Canada’s top law school. It’s not even the best law school in Toronto.

  30. Posted June 30, 2008 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    It seems there has been a slip of late, although this site still has it very high. What I do find interesting is that Awan managed to get himself a clerkship, in light of the comments on that site. The material of his I’ve read around the intertubes is very poorly written.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant : Tree of Knowledge on June 10, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    […] to Tim Dunlop and the folk at ScepticLawyer (here and here) for taking up the unfashionable (and unpalatable) cause of defending Mark Steyn’s democratic […]

  2. By Steynian 183 « Free Mark Steyn! on June 30, 2008 at 5:53 am

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    […] successful with their parliaments making the laws. The Americans (and now, the Canadians – think of the endless wrangling over their hate speech laws) have huge and ugly fights over stuff that in terms of decisions one way or the other is properly […]

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