COVER

The unpopular defender

Shona McKay March 11 1985
COVER

The unpopular defender

Shona McKay March 11 1985

The unpopular defender

Shona McKay

Wrought-iron railings bar the windows of the white Victorian house in downtown Toronto. The heavy security, which includes bolts on the doors and surveillance cameras, has been in place since a bomb exploded six months ago behind the house owned by publisher Ernst Zundel. Now, Douglas Christie, a Victoria lawyer, has become a key member of the circle of supporters around Zundel, and he has moved into the well-protected house.

The 38-year-old Christie, who defended Zundel on charges of wilfully publishing false information, has been Zundel’s lawyer since the trial be-

Igan in early January.

Christie shares some of Zundel’s doubts about the extent of the Holocaust and insists that he and the publisher have the right to express them—no matter how unpopular that makes them. Declared Christie:

“Freedom is the foremost passion of my life.”

Abrasive: That belief has left him largely isolated in his personal and professional life. In Victoria the tall bachelor operates a one-man criminal law practice from a small storefront office and lives in a $250-amonth rented room, 24 km away. Despite an abrasive courtroom manner, his peers consider him to be a competent lawyer. Arthur J. Russ, a member of the firm where Christie finished his articling, said that Christie had a good reputation as a criminal lawyer. Said Russ: “He is very capable in criminal law and very diligent. Doug, though, is kind of a Lone Ranger type.” Apart from his girlfriend, 29-year-old Keltie Zubko, who has been his research assistant for the past three years, Christie acknowledges that he has few friends and adds that he rarely sees his parents,

in Cochrane, Alta. Instead, his solitary social existence allows him to devote his energy to two causes: defending freedom of speech and advocating western separatism.

Discontent: Christie first became attracted to the idea of western separatism in the mid-1970s. At that time, the federal government was dominated by

eastern Canadians. For his part, Christie was convinced that growing western discontent could blossom into a strong separatist movement. Its ultimate aim: a union of the four western provinces in an independent nation. To that end he founded the Western Canada Concept, an organization that reached its peak with the 1982 provincial byelection victory of WCC candidate Gord Kesler in Alberta.

But even in British Columbia, where Christie remains the elected leader of a

party that he estimated has 3,000 followers, the WCC is now in disarray and no longer poses a threat to more established political organizations. Still, he remains confident that western separatism’s time will come. Said Christie: “At the moment everyone in the west thinks that [Prime Minister ] Mulroney is solving the problem, but it is only a matter of time before they discover that he is just another eastern politician.”

While he waits for a separatist revival, Christie has plunged into another area of controversy: defending alleged racists. In a preliminary hearing last June, Christie represented James Keegstra, a former mayor of Eckville, Alta., who had been charged with wilfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group. At the hearing, Provincial Court Judge Douglas Crowe ruled that statements made by the former high school history teacher “were capable of promoting hatred.” Argued Christie, who will defend Keegstra when the case comes to trial in April in the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench: “James Keegstra and Ernst Zundel are martyrs for their cause and everyone else who loves freedom.”

Attacks: Those opinions have created strong reactions among large groups of Canadians and have led to personal attacks on Christie. In Victoria vandals broke windows and painted swastikas on the door of his law office last June. At the same time, Christie’s fellow lawyers acknowledge that every defendant is entitled to counsel, but some find the Zundel case offensive. Declared Mark Silverberg, a Vancouver lawyer and executive director of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Jewish Congress: “The Zundel trial is one of the most disgusting examples of what is called freedom of expression in this country. It is racism at an insidiously high level. I agree that these people are entitled to legal counsel. But I sure as hell would not be their lawyer.”

For his part, Christie argues that genuine freedom of speech means that no subject should be off limits—no matter how offensive the opinions expressed. He added: “No one dares to suggest that you cannot criticize Jews. The Holocaust has become a stringent religion that will not tolerate criticism. If we do not fight every day for freedom, it becomes repressed.” Last week’s verdict did nothing to resolve that profound debate. But it warned participants to be careful how they presented their arguments.^