Wednesday, March 13, 2013

[CTV] Remembering Victoria lawyer Doug Christie: Defender of free speech

VICTORIA - Doug Christie was a man prepared to fight for what he believed in. In the early 1980's, he was the vocal leader of the separatist Western Canada Concept party.

Fellow lawyers say Christie was willing to represent almost any client, to protect their right to freedom of speech and expression. He defended the despised, like Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel and former Nazi prison guard Michael Seifert. Christie was criticized for promoting the right to hate. His supporters say that's not fair. "For defending unpopular speech, he became far more controversial and in some areas reviled than if he defended murders. Nobody holds it against the lawyers who defended Paul Bernardo," says former client Paul Fromm.

In Victoria, the home of Christie's practice, for decades, was a tiny office across from the courthouse where Barclay Johnson now sits. Johnson worked side by side with Christie, and grew to admire a man he doesn't think the public knows. "When I met Doug Christie he was the complete opposite of what I was told to expect. He was a very caring libertarian; he stuck up for the rights of almost anybody."

Christie had also earned the respect of his opponents. "He was a fierce competitor. Every time you went into court with Doug on the other side you had to have your tackle in order" says former crown prosecutor Nils Jensen.

Johnson says Christie's legacy extends far beyond Vancouver Island. "I've always kind of compared him to a giant sequoia. His roots are deep; the shadow is right across the country. And we've lost a giant. We really have."

Christie was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011 and died Monday of liver disease. He was surrounded by his wife and kids. His family says he wanted you to remember this:

"Freedom of speech is the one thing you have to give to your worst enemies if you wish to keep it for yourself."

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