The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: people/c/christie.doug/press/Times_Colonist.020303

An Uneasy Peace:
  At 56, controversial lawyer Douglas Christie now worries for his children

Times Colonist (Victoria) Sunday, March 3, 2002 Monitor D1 / FRONT
Jody Paterson

  They're dying off, the men who Douglas Christie loved the most. His heroes
are dead men and the list is growing every day. It hasn't been easy being 
the lawyer to the stars of Canada's white-supremacist movement these last 
two decades, but at least there used
to be a few more people who he looked up to, some friends who didn't think 
he was such a bad guy.

Now, they're either dead or gone. Dead: Paul Arsens, the Victoria 
businessman who first rented Christie this funny little box of an office 23 
years ago on the parking lot beside the Royal Theatre. Barney Russ, the 
"wonderful man" who let Christie finish out his articling with him after 
Christie got ditched by another law firm. E. Davie Fulton, former Tory 
justice minister. John Diefenbaker, still mourned by Christie as a great loss.

He's sitting here talking about his life and suddenly realizing that 
they're all dead. Even his infamous clients are fading away. Anti-Semitic 
columnist Doug Collins has died. So has white supremacist John Ross Taylor 
and accused war criminal Imre Finta. Jim Keegstra stays off the public 
radar as much as possible. Ernst Zundel, whose anti-Semitic Web site was 
found in violation last month of federal human-rights laws, has moved to 
Tennessee and married the woman who runs the site for him.

And hate-rock musician George Burdi isn't even in the movement any more. 
Christie's no youngster himself, 56 now and surprised to find himself 
enjoying fatherhood. His children are nine and 11, and a key factor in how 
he ended up president of the Saanich Water Polo Club. He's had a long, hard 
run at this life of his, and nearly 20 years of being publicly denounced 
for some of the company he has
kept. It's got Christie wondering if it's time for a change. He hadn't 
expected to have children. But now that he does, it makes a difference.

"I worry for the kids," Christie says. "I remember coming down to my office 
a few years back with my son, then age four, and finding the window smashed 
in. He couldn't understand why someone would do that to his Daddy." 
Christie is top villain among those who fight against hate propaganda in 
Canada; his skill as a lawyer has helped a number of his controversial 
clients win their fights before courts and human rights tribunals. He 
differentiates himself from his racist clients -- he's merely a libertarian 
and an ardent proponent of free speech, he contends.

But there are many who don't believe him. "Doug Christie has aligned 
himself so many times with these perverted monsters that he has to be 
viewed as one himself," Vancouver radio talk-show
host Gary Bannerman said back in 1985. Christie sued him and lost. The 
judge ruled it was fair
comment. Three years ago, Christie became the first lawyer in Canadian 
history to be banned from Ottawa's parliamentary precinct because the 
government didn't like his client, Zundel. And when the Law Society of 
Upper Canada went looking for evidence in 1993 that Christie was aligning 
himself too closely with his clients' causes, it ruled only grudgingly that 
he was off the hook.

  "He has made common cause with a small, lunatic anti-Semitic fringe 
element in our society," wrote Windsor lawyer Harvey Strosberg. "[But] 
suffering Mr. Christie's words and opinions is part of the price one pays 
for upholding and cherishing freedom of speech in a free and democratic 
society." Even the politicians run from him. While his politics certainly 
lean to the right, the Canadian Alliance nearly tied itself in knots trying 
to distance itself from Christie when he joined the party two years ago.

  It's all a bit much, says Christie. "I'm in a debate with myself whether 
there's anything to salvage in Canada," he says. "There's definitely no 
hope in Ottawa. All I can see is slow decline." Christie was born in 
Winnipeg, the oldest child of a federal tax collector and a homemaker. He 
has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a law degree from 
UBC, having put himself through school with jobs in the oil fields, as a 
lifeguard and making sandwiches in his university dorm to sell to other 
students. He remembers the conversation with his father that led to him 
choosing law.

"I liked working outside, but I also liked reading through documents and 
that sort of thing," Christie recalls. "My dad said, 'Well, you could be a 
farmer or a lawyer.' I figured I could be a lawyer AND a farmer, but not 
the other way around." Christie became fascinated with religion during 
university, and converted to Catholicism when he was 21. It came as 
something of a surprise to his Presbyterian family. In his early days as a 
Catholic in Victoria, Christie founded St. Andrew's Refugee Association to 
aid newly arrived Vietnamese refugees. His faith remains an important part 
of his life.

The only two images hanging on the walls of his Courtney Street office are 
Jesus and Civil War leader
Robert E. Lee. Christie's first venture into the public eye was as a 
Western separatist, a concept that gained him a bit of an audience in the 
late 1970s and early '80s. It was at one of those rallies that he met the 
woman he would eventually marry, Keltie Zubko, on-line publisher of the 
Freedom Papers and a kindred spirit. Zundel called her "an unsung fighter 
of freedom of speech in Canada" in one of his Internet "Z-grams" last year.

She and Christie celebrated their 20th anniversary on Valentine's Day. 
Christie's Western Canada Concept is still a registered political party, 
although he won only 62 votes when he last ran as the WCC candidate for 
Saanich South in the 1996 provincial election. And its founder remains 
committed to his belief that the West should separate, arguing that every 
new party and attempt at political
reform rises out of the West, only to be crushed by the East. The vision 
for the West under the WCC is of an English-speaking "genuine national 
culture true to our existing European heritage and values."

Aboriginals would take individual cash settlements and be done with it. 
Abortions would be restricted, as would immigration. "Capacity to 
voluntarily assimilate is a prerequisite to all new immigration," notes the 
party's Web site. They're not the most popular views to hold, nor were they 
when the party
started. So perhaps it's not surprising that Christie felt the urge in 1984 
to call up the Alberta teacher he'd been reading about who held some pretty 
controversial views as well. Jim Keegstra was mayor of Eckville, Alta., and 
a teacher at the local high school. He'd been warned six years earlier to 
tone it down in the classroom with his criticism of Catholics, but this 
time he'd been talking about the Jews in Germany.

His students lined up to testify that Keegstra's teaching had left them 
hating Jews and doubting the Holocaust, and hehad been fired and charged 
with promoting hatred. "I felt sympathy for the guy," says Christie. "I'd 
been kind of big news for a while in Alberta, and I felt that the media 
tends to pick on people sometimes. So I phoned him up. I just wanted to say 
'Hey, don't be down-hearted.' " Keegstra recognized Christie's name from 
his Western Canada Concept connections and asked if Christie would 
represent him. "I said OK very slowly, because I knew this would change my 
life forever." It did.

Keegstra's views on the Holocaust and Jews were so outrageous that many 
people suspected that no one but a fellow believer would take on such a 
case. The Ernst Zundel case was that same year. As Canadian distributor of 
an ugly little pamphlet out of Britain titled Did Six Million Really Die?, 
had been charged with spreading false news. Christie set up his Canadian 
Free Speech League around
that time as a defence fund for Zundel and Keegstra. There have been many 
others since Christie was launched down this path.

Some have belonged to the Ku Klux Klan or the white-supremacist Church of 
the Creator. Some were accused of recording hateful phone messages or 
writing hateful essays, still others with running Internet and telephone 
hotlines deemed racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or hateful by human rights 
tribunals and courts across the country. "Except for Joan of Arc, it's 
rarely the case that the people a lawyer defends are seen as savoury by 
others," says Christie about his client list.

"I think their views are interesting, that's all, and important because 
they're different." As for his own views, Christie considers himself 
"authentic" for standing up for what he believes in, which for the most 
part has not yet aligned him with his clients but has certainly placed him 
close to the pack. He says he's not anti-Semitic. "I don't mind Jews and 
they don't usually mind me," contends Christie
(although he does recall a long-ago morning in the Y change-room when he 
stood stunned in his three-piece pinstripe suit as local businessman Howie 
Siegel, Jewish and stark naked, tore a strip off him for taking on the 
Keegstra case). "I get along well with people in general. I treat them like 

It was around the time of Keegstra, the spring of 1985, that Red Deer 
College English professor Gary Botting stumbled into Christie's life. 
Botting was a Jehovah's Witness, a religion whose followers went through a 
period in the 1950s of being criminally prosecuted for spreading false news.
As a result, he felt strongly about protecting freedom of expression. So 
when he heard about an Alberta library banning a Holocaust-denial book, 
Botting spoke out. Christie was on the phone soon after, and Botting soon 
found himself bundled onto a plane to Toronto to be an "expert witness" at 
Zundel's trial. Botting seems quite baffled today at how it all happened, 
and how completely
his relationship with Christie subsequently unravelled a few years later.

He was a friend and fellow traveller -- even articling with Christie during 
Botting's transition into a
lawyer after the two men met. Botting, now living in Bowser and no longer 
practising law, says the
friendship deteriorated as he grew more worried about the people he found 
himself keeping company with.When Botting received the debut George Orwell 
free speech award in 1986, a Christie invention, he was horrified to see 
the TV news juxtapose his image with that of an ex-Klansman standing beside 
a burning cross. The moment that ultimately severed the relationship was at 
a party 11 years
ago at Zundel's Toronto home, says Botting.

  He'd wandered into Zundel's basement and come upon"a large-screen TV with 
half a dozen really elderly Nazi types weeping away as Hitler rallied the 
masses for the 1936 Berlin Games." He began to
question whether freedom ofexpression was the issue at hand. "I'm all in 
favour of a free marketplace of ideas," Botting says now. "But Christie 
always seemed to go that one step farther." In 1996, humiliated by reports 
that Zundel was still pointing to Botting's trial testimony as support, 
Botting wrote a letter to Christie saying his free speech league was in 
fact a front for an "anti-Semitic agenda."

He renounced all ties with Christie and returned his Orwell award. Does 
Christie share the views of his clients? He will say only that his clients' 
opinions are "interesting," and shouldn't be silenced just because people 
don't want to hear what they have to say. He has been quoted in the past 
questioning theories about the Holocaust, telling reporters in 1985, "I can 
say I've come to have some grave doubts
about the exterminationist side."

He definitely rubbed federal Citizenship Minister Elinor Caplan the wrong 
way a couple of months ago with a comment about her "Jewish animosity" 
toward one of his clients. Botting recalls driving with Christie while he 
sang along gustily in German to a tape of war-era German marching music, 
played at deafening volume for the benefit of an alarmed hitchhiker in the 
back seat. "I think the shock appeal is part of it," says Botting. "But 
there's something very distasteful about using Nazism for its shock value."

George Burdi, the reformed founder of a white-power music distribution 
company (he now describes himself as "a born-again liberal" and plays in a 
multi-race band), says it's simplistic to think that there's a single 
viewpoint shared by everyone on the extreme right. "It's a bit like 
Christianity inside the movement in that you hardly find two with the same 
view," says Burdi, who spent two weeks with Christie in adjoining hotel 
rooms during a hate trial three years ago. "You'd be surprised. I remember 
hearing Ernst Zundel arguing for more immigration from Asia. "But what's 
important to understand is that none of them are Dr. Evil, wringing their 
hands and planning to destroy people. They believe what
they're saying."

Christie was Burdi's lawyer in 1999 when the Toronto musician pleaded 
guilty to spreading racial hatred, having been caught in a sting selling 
racist CDs to police. Burdi remembers Christie urging him to let the matter 
proceed to trial, even offering to take the case for free rather than see 
Burdi plead guilty. "He was ready to give up three months of his time away 
from home, and do it pro bono," says Burdi. "I have to call that honour. I 
think it's a real shame a man like that has spent his life trapped in this 
bitter battle."

Christie remembers the time when he was sitting in his car outside his 
office and a truck drove into the side of the building. Had he been inside, 
the truck would have hit him while he sat at his desk. He doubts it was an 
accident. He's since boarded up his office windows in the old Broughton 
Street jewelry kiosk he leases from the city, the better to avoid the 
hassle of cleaning up broken glass. He hesitated for two weeks before 
agreeing to be interviewed, fearful of another wave of media-generated 
hassles. "I'm starting to think I'm running out of friends," he says jokingly.

His name alone is trouble enough. A Toronto lawyer with the same name 
suffered through 11 death threats in the 1990s before he finally took out a 
newspaper ad noting that he wasn't that Doug Christie. Life hasn't been any 
smoother for Victoria's Doug Christie. "Ultimately, you have to be what you 
are," he says. "There's never been an easy time to say these things. When 
people really take time to live
authentic lives, it far exceeds in value the compromises made for 
short-term gains." Christie has chosen to fight back by suing people, a 
practice that has raised eyebrows among those who find it strange behaviour 
for a man who considers himself a champion of free speech.

He has sued newspapers, politicians and various individuals over the years, 
with varying degrees of success. Financially, Christie says he's done all 
right for himself, although no one would know it by the look of his office. 
The carpet is worn, the furniture minimalist and tatty. The lighting is 
dim. The walls are nearly bare but for Jesus, Robert E. Lee and a handmade 
poster declaring "Justice is My Hope."

Christie says he likes to save on overhead. There have been lower-profile 
clients over the years supplementing his freedom-of-expression cases: A 
Victoria grandmother fighting to have her
granddaughter come visit her at her escort agency; the local film festival 
battling to show a documentary about porn star John Holmes inside St. Ann's 
Academy; marine engineer Bob
Ward in his libel lawsuit against former premier Glen Clark. But it's never 
long before the next controversial case emerges. And they invariably have 
something to do with contentious opinions around Nazis and the Holocaust.

  The most recent in that long line is the case of Michael Seifert, the 
convicted war criminal from Vancouver who Ottawa is trying to strip of 
Canadian citizenship and deport. The issues Christie has raised around free 
speech don't sit comfortably with many. It's difficult to support 
Christie's wide-open version of freedom of expression without appearing to 
endorse the appalling views of some of his clients. One who handled the 
challenge well was Conrad Black. Exhorted by former employee Doug Collins 
to support his fight to overturn a B.C. Human Rights ruling that found his 
writing hateful, the newspaper baron replied: "Some of your editorial 
reflections are such that, while we don't contest your right to your 
opinions, we are not prepared to publish or underwrite them ourselves."

Warren Kinsella, a Toronto lawyer whose 1994 book Web of Hate includes a 
chapter on Christie, says Christie is a good lawyer, routinely 
underestimated by those who come up against him. He is also in demand as a 
public speaker, travelling around the world at the request of those who 
like what he has to say. He'll be in Borneo this month on one such 
engagement, and is popular in Australia. "He's very dogged, very determined 
to represent these people," says Kinsella of Christie's standard clientele. 
"It's just a shame that many of them possess such loathsome opinions." 
Burdi says the white-power movement in Canada that Christie has figured so 
prominently in is "moribund" these days.

The old guard has moved on, and the new wave of young and vicious white 
supremacists that Burdi was briefly part of is languishing. He figures it 
was the Internet that did in the movement, the opposite of what everyone 
predicted. Hate literature is now so readily available that it has lost its 
thrill. As for Christie, he isn't likely to abandon his cause, or run out 
of clients. It's been more than half a century since the Holocaust, but 
there seems to be no shortage of people still eager to argue over it. "If 
you and I disagree, why should one of us have to be silent?" asks Christie.

"Every group should be open to criticism if criticism is true, and the way 
that's determined is through public debate and analysis." But he's tired 
these days, and troubled by a bout of asthma that landed him in the 
hospital recently. He's thinking about new directions, musing over how nice 
it would be to work in a plant nursery. "Thirty years. There've been some 
stressful times in there," says Christie.
"I've got to think about slowing down. I think I'll just try to do what I 
can with whatever is left to me."

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