Levant Doesn’t Deserve NASH Keynote

National Student Press Conference No Place for Hateful Remarks

Ezra Levant is one of four keynote speakers that will address student journalists at the 76th NASH conference. Photo David Stobbe.

Every year the Canadian University Press hosts a national conference for student journalists.

Papers from across the country send delegates to NASH, as the conference is known, and for a few days each January hundreds attend critiques, round tables and panel discussions to learn how to maximize their paper’s abilities.

Notable keynotes in the past have included Brian Stelter of The New York Times, CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti, and Ken Silverstein of Harper’s Magazine. For the 76th edition of the conference, Ezra Levant will be added to the list of memorable figures. Why are part of delegates’ fees being used to pay for a speech by someone who has gone on various tirades against minorities, and has been sued for libel multiple times in the past?

Levant hosts the Sun News Network program The Source which is, as he puts it, “The most controversial news show in Canada.” Neither Levant nor his show are strangers to controversy; one of the more recent snafus the show got itself into was when Levant, while explaining why he sees banana distributing company Chiquita as “Anti-Canadian bigots,” told an executive of the company, in Spanish, to “fuck your mother.” Following an investigation by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, Sun News Network was found to be in violation of the CBSC Code of Ethics.

Less than a year later, Levant made comments regarding the Roma in Canada, saying that they are “a culture synonymous with swindlers. […] Too many have come here as false refugees. And they come here to gyp us again and rob us blind as they have done in Europe for centuries.” While he later apologized for his comments—six months later—in doing so he continued to refer to the Roma as “gypsies,” an outdated and derogatory term that brings into question his sincerity.

I’m not opposed to hearing opinions I disagree with, or listening to different takes on the state of the Canadian media, but there is a big difference between a divergent opinion and hate speech. Levant’s own lawsuit for libel has been postponed until January.

Further, while I am a strong believer in Charter-guaranteed rights of freedom of speech, it’s difficult to not take issue with the fact that a portion of each delegate fee will go towards financing Levant’s time at the conference, given his past hateful remarks.

According to CUP, a total of $10,000 goes towards financial compensation for speakers, so the figure isn’t necessarily staggering, but that hardly seems to matter when one fifth of that money will go towards reinforcing the idea that Levant’s opinions, which as the rulings by the CBSC show are frequently in breach of the ethical guidelines for broadcast, are valid, worth listening to and worth paying money to hear.

The idea of being challenged by the ideas presented by keynote speakers is great, but is Ezra Levant really the kind of person that delegates should be paying fees to see? While it is impressive that CUP managed to attract someone like Levant, who is without question a well-known face in Canadian media, is it really that laudable given the fact that Levant is arguably most famous for incidents like the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad?

Levant has consistently fought against funding for the CBC, furiously criticized the Alberta Human Rights Commission for the case against Reverend Stephen Boissoin—the reverend had accused gays and lesbians of a “militant homosexual agenda” and advocated that people “take whatever steps are necessary to reverse its wickedness,” suggested that environmentalists were to blame for the Lac-Mégantic tragedy this summer, and used ethnic slurs and massive generalizations when referring to a visible minority in Canada.

Although a win for CUP, adding Levant to the list of keynote speakers this year was misguided—to say the least. There are hundreds of better speakers out there. He shouldn’t be given yet another venue to preach his intolerance or validate his method of journalism.

UPDATE: When CUP was contacted for conference budget information to be used in this article, we were told $10,000 of delegate fees are used to pay speakers. The same information was also initially cited in CUP’s response to this article. CUP has since told us we were given erroneous information, and that the amount refers to a combination of delegate fees and money from sponsors. The article has been updated to reflect this.