Review: Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights, by Ezra Levant

(Originally posted on Amazon 5/22/2009)


To partially borrow a phrase from Jonah Goldberg, if fascism ever came to the Western Democracies, it would come not from brownshirts pounding on your doorstep, but lawyers carrying subpoenas issued by faceless, unelected, and unaccountable bureaucrats. This is exactly the nightmare that Ezra Levine faced in Canada, when he was forced to give account before a government agency for doing something that most people in the west take for granted: speaking his mind.

The government agency for which he was hauled before – the Alberta Human Rights Commission – had started out innocently enough, as a place of legal recourse for people who felt that they had been discriminated against in housing and employment, but did not have the means for which to pursue a grievance. But somewhere along the way, its mission became perverted. It took an expansive view of its mandate to pursue “human rights”, and began to pursue people based not on their actions, but on what they said or wrote — classifying anything that they deemed as “hate speech” as a human rights violation, and therefore subject to their investigations and sanctions. In other words, they became thought police, with astonishing powers to pursue a target, and whose victims soon found that they had very little legal recourse but to give in to the AHRC’s “remedies”.

This is what happens when government is allowed to run unchecked, when government agencies take it upon themselves to be the arbiter of what its citizens can and cannot do. This book is a wake-up call for how government, even with the best of intentions, can step in and take away people’s freedoms in the name of the “greater good”, and how little anyone can do to stop them. While Shakedown is primarily about Ezra Levant’s three-year struggle against the AHRC, Mr. Levant also takes a considerable amount of time to document other such abuses by similar commissions all across Canada. By doing so, he demonstrates how this mindless pursuit of “human rights” has in fact done the exact opposite. In a larger sense, he is sounding the alarm for how it is that government can take away basic freedoms, and especially how easily a small cadre of extremist radicals can subvert the system and impose their will and values on everyone with relatively little impunity. The thin-skinned and easily offended barbarians are at the helm, and they bristle at the notion that Mr. Levant can have the nerve to counter their arguments with, “Because it is my bloody right to.”

Although Mr. Levant is conservative, this book should not be construed as “just a typical right wing diatribe against the abuses of the left”. It actually transcends notions of Left vs. Right, Liberal vs. Conservative, and Mr. Levant takes considerable pains to point this out. The abuses that Mr. Levant outlines in his book could just as easily have happened from a right-wing junta as it did from a left-wing truth commission. The point is not the political ideologies involved, but the notion of government intrusion into our individual liberties – in this case, free speech. It is a sobering and frightening look at how easily we allow our basic freedoms to be handed over and compromised by an all-powerful, all-encompassing State, and the consequences of doing so. Something that every person who values their freedom to consider, as we live in this day and age of steadily growing government power.

5 Stars out of 5 Stars