Honoring Doug Christie
by James Holbeyfield | Counter-Currents Publishing | March 28, 2013
Douglas Hewson Christie died on March 11th, 2013 at the age of 66. He was among the greatest defense lawyers of his generation, in Canada or any other country, and his greatness was founded on two piers: courage and honor.
In his eulogy for his father, Doug’s son Cadeyrn has said that his father was meant for the battlefield, and in another age would have fought with sword and shield, but in our age, his battlefield was the courtroom.
This identification of warriors with the best lawyers helps us to understand a major lesson of the way Doug Christie lived his life. It is this: the courage to speak freely and publicly against the powerful, the courage to defend those the powerful deem indefensible, and the courage to face threats to career, home, and family from the tolerated minions of the powerful for the sake of principle; all these are first founded on physical courage.
Doug retained tremendous physical courage right up to the end. Incredibly, less than three weeks before he died, his liver riddled with metastatic cancer and refusing pain-killers, so that his brain and his examinations, would be as famously sharp and focused as ever, he had been in court arguing on behalf of a client. There, he collapsed and was brought to hospital. Even then, his chief desire was to be released so that he could finish that case and get back to another, his ongoing defense of Arthur Topham, who has been charged with promoting hate on the internet.
Sadly, that could not be, and Doug’s final regret was that he was unable to carry on for Mr. Topham, just as his greatest concern since he was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 was that once he was gone, there would be no Canadian lawyer to take his place of prominence in battling the endless attacks on freedom of speech in that fallen dominion. Canada is an Anglosphere country that’s particularly vulnerable to the bizarre new ‘tyranny of tolerance’ because it was founded as a nation, not of rebels so much as of men self-selected for conformity, because those men faced a subsequent requirement for an endless, uneasy truce with the pre-existing French population, and because breakdowns in that truce eventually led, under Pierre Trudeau, to a method for reducing its importance by transforming British Canada into multicultural Canada. Unfortunately, Canada shows every sign of needing more lawyers like Doug Christie going forward. Instead, it has lost the only one it had.
If a successor to Doug is waiting in Canada’s future, he will have large shoes to fill. “Very large shoes indeed,” Father Lucien Larré reminded hundreds of mourners at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Victoria in officiating at Doug’s funeral, “but we must never stop trying to fill them anyway.”
The reason for the magnitude of the task is straightforward: working as a solo lawyer with a staff of one or two assistants, over the course of three decades Doug Christie defined the legal defense of free speech in Canada. When Doug took on his first free speech case in 1983, that of Alberta high-school teacher James Keegstra when he was fired from his job and charged with willfully promoting hatred by discussing Jewish conspiracies with his students, Canada had had criminal hate laws on the books since the 1960s, but they were dormant. “It was a novel proposition to prosecute people for what they said,” Doug reminded the world. But since Keegstra, it has been used scores of times, and Doug Christie was the backbone of the defense in every landmark case. He argued more free speech cases before the Supreme Court of Canada than anyone. All of this from a tiny, sole proprietorship law practice of a type that has now virtually disappeared.
Doug’s widow, Keltie Zubko, has said that his proudest case, which they worked on so hard together, she as legal assistant, was that of Imre Finta. It remains Canada’s only war crimes trial. Following a two-year investigation, the trial took place in three countries, Canada, Hungary. and Israel, over the course of nine months. The prosecution spent millions. It all resulted in Mr. Finta’s acquittal, without needing to call evidence, principally on the basis of Doug’s cross-examination. The prosecution appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, where Doug argued against it so effectively that Canada has never attempted to prosecute a war crimes case since.
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