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Wednesday, June 4

The Shakedown

Finally! The solution to a big mystery surrounding the Section 13 complaints against Maclean's magazine! The revelation came in a stunning line of questioning during the second day of the British Columbia Tribunal hearing on the Maclean's case.(1)

For the public, the mystery has always been why the Section 13 complaints were filed by Mohamed Elmasry and not the four law students who prepared the complaints, and whose thwarted demands to Maclean's launched the complaints.

Elmasry has remained in the background since the news broke about the complaints. The students have widely publicized their role in the complaints and referred to themselves, in numerous published articles and media appearances, as the complainants.

So why didn't the students put their own names to the complaints?

The answer came in yesterday's hearing when Julian Porter, one of the lawyers for Maclean's, produced letters written in 2007 from the law students to Maclean's.

It's been known to the public for many months that the students made demands, including a demand for money, during their 2007 meeting with representatives of Maclean's.

But it wasn't until yesterday's hearing that the public learned what the students had known all along: that prior to the meeting they had put their demands in writing -- including the demand for a "substantial" amount of money.

It's always been obvious that the demand was in effect a shakedown. Yet for a demand to be considered extortion it must be accompanied by an outright threat of physical or reputational harm, or by or some type of intimidation that implies such threat.

At this point it seems there was no explicit threat expressed in the letters. (The exact wording of the letters is not yet publicly available.) Nor does it seem (from what we know at this point) that a threat was expressed during the 2007 meeting between the students and Maclean's representatives. However, it came out in yesterday's hearing that Julian Porter was present at the 2007 meeting.

Given the demand for money in the letters that Maclean's received prior to the meeting, it's readily apparent why Maclean's made sure to have an attorney sit in on the meeting. And I think we might assume that the meeting was tape-recorded -- or that Porter took exhaustive notes.

So, if the students had made the smallest suggestion of a threat during their meeting with Maclean's, and if the students had put their names to the Section 13 complaint, which is a clear attack on the reputation of Maclean's, then -- along with the evidence of the letters -- there would have been grounds for Maclean's to go the police with a complaint of extortion.

Therefore, Mohamed Elmasry put his name to the Section 13 complaint.

And therefore, no matter how close Khurrum Awan (one of the four law students) came yesterday to admitting to extortion under Porter's questioning, technically he and the other students are off the hook.

There were additional striking revelations from Porter's questioning of Awan. Ezra Levant pointed out the great significance of Porter's questions to Awan about what he said to Mike Duffy. Awan was shown to be lying about why he wanted the Section 13 complaint filed against Maclean's.

But again, it's not Awan's name on the complaint. So no matter how much Porter's questioning brings out Awan's lies it won't affect the outcome of the hearing, one way or another.

What it will affect, in light of the revelation of the letters, is Mohamed Elmasry's reputation. Only the most credulous will now accept the reasons he gave for filing the Section 13 complaints, even if the tribunal finds in his favor.

The question is how much the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal enjoys finding themselves party to a scheme that only by a technicality avoids being termed extortion. Upon that question much hangs.

I will end here with a little review of the way some things work in an advanced society:

Awan claims that he and the other students were demanding money from Maclean's not for themselves but for a race relations organization.

It is not called "fundraising" when you say or imply, 'Donate to my charitable cause or I'll ruin your reputation, and cost you so much in legal fees that you'll regret not giving to my charity.'

To repeat: that's not fundraising. That's extortion. Here in the West it is a serious crime, punishable with prison. And anyone who goes through law school in Canada would know that.

For blow-by-blow accounts of yesterday's hearing, check out Andrew Coyne's blog and Ezra Levant's.

Unfortunately Ezra will not be present at the hearing for the rest of the week (although he'll surely continue to write about it) but Coyne will continue to live-blog the action.

1) 1) To be strictly accurate, under the British Columbia human rights code it's a Section 7 complaint. But Section 7 is virtually the same as Section 13 of the federal Canadian human rights code. It's become convention for those writing about the issue to refer to all codes relating to Section 13 simply as "Section 13."
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