Even in vigorous debate over public policy issues there are rules for verbal combat; there is an ethics of debate.
Rule number one: it is nearly always wrong to personally attack those who hold opinions different from yours. When done deliberately, attacking your opponents instead of their views is dishonest because it purports to be about one thing – the public policy in question – but is actually about something else, the destruction of your opponents’ credibility or integrity. It can also be self-defeating. When seen for what it is – basically, character assassination – it can undermine whatever validity there is in your policy position.
Regardless, the strategy is often employed, most notoriously at present, by Ezra Levant, lawyer, writer and blogger on human rights commission issues, in his campaign against Jennifer Lynch, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Here is a small sampling of the things Levant has written recently about her: “Jennifer Lynch is a damned liar,” “an execrable woman” and a “pathological liar.” “What an odious woman. When she accosted me . . ., I didn’t recognize her . . . She is much more haggard and old than her ancient publicity picture.”
This kind of personal attack, while not illegal unless false and thus defamatory (which some of this stuff might be), violates the ethics of debate because it targets a person, not the policy under scrutiny – whether the Canadian Human Rights Commission should have the power to regulate speech. And while Levant’s comments may be, taken cumulatively, intimidating, they have literally nothing to do with the law reform issue at hand.
This from Janet Keeping, the President of the Sheldon Chumir foundation, of whom Ezra once wrote
The Chumir Foundation is run by true liberals, like Janet Keeping – a deeply thoughtful woman who truly cares about real human rights.
The Chumir Foundation is on record as supporting the repeal of section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act. It seems though they have realized that having Ezra on your side of an issue is a net negative.