• May

    A Farewell to My Friend Douglas H. Christie, Victoria Lawyer


    A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a business network meeting and we were discussing the HST tax war (Harmonized Sales Tax) in British Columbia, led by former premier Bill Van Der Zalm (which was defeated in a referendum). I was telling my friend that I was standing shoulder to shoulder with Doug Christie at the first of many of the HST protests. When he told me that Doug had died from liver cancer only two months before, the shock was like a body blow.

    “What happened?” I stammered. I had no idea he was ill. Dave, my friend, filled me in and told me that the cancer was fast acting; that Doug died shortly after the diagnosis. I sincerely hope he didn’t suffer too much.

    Some of you might know of Doug Christie as a protector of free speech and he was often in the courts, defending several people accused of hate speech such as Jim Keestra and Ernst Zundel. I’m sure you’re wondering how I could have met such a man, so I’m going to explain how this all came about.

    I moved to Victoria in 1998, partly due to the urgings of my cousin, who I’ll refer to as “M.” “M” was having some legal challenges and had hired Doug to represent him. When “M” told me, I was incredulous. According to the Jewish community, where both of us were from, Doug Christie was public enemy number one.

    As it turned out, “M” had a hard time convincing Doug to work with him, because Doug (apparently) thought it was a setup. Still, my cousin convinced him and Doug went on to represent him. In time, “M” wanted me to meet Doug, but I wasn’t thrilled with the idea.

    Eventually, “M” had his way and we met Doug in downtown Victoria for a coffee. Afterwards, “M” asked me, “So, was he the devil incarnate?” “No,” I replied. “Actually, I liked him.” That began my friendship with Doug Christie.

    Some time later I hired Doug to sue a former employer. During the process I realized I wasn’t going to win and decided to end my action. When I did, Doug, and later his wife, Keltie, informed me that it’s a waste of time to sue anybody, no matter what the reason. This is partly because a lawsuit can tie up your life for years. It was one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned.

    It was no question to me that Doug Christie was a complex man. He was passionate about his cause and dedicated. Did I understand everything he did? No. Did I agree with everything? No, again. Still, I liked him as a human being. He was kind to me and a good friend.

    Many times I went to visit him at his law office over the years and even met a client or two. One of those was the late Bob Ward, who was vilified in the press by then premier, Glen Clark, over the fast cat ferry fiasco. Bob sued Clark for defamation and won, but the victory was overturned in the court of appeals. I was really upset over that.

    Doug said: “Well, if you feel that way, you should write a letter to the premier.” I did, and received a response from both Gordon Campbell and the attorney general. This gist of my argument was this: “According to what happened, this case sets a dangerous precedent. It means that you cannot sue a politician and win, even if you’re right.”

    When Doug read my letter, he was astonished. He said: “If I can get this case into the supreme court, can I use your argument?” “Sure.” I said. Sadly, that was not to be. Bob Ward died not long afterwards and the event faded into history.

    I continued to see Doug over the years, but less often. The last major encounter was during the HST protests. Doug gave a speech on the back steps of the legislature. His voice, normally a bass rose into the tenor ranges. At times his voice squeaked, cracked and he windmilled his arms as he spoke. I’d never seen him so upset. Later, when I read more about the tax, I realized he had every right to be.

    While Doug could be quite serious about freedom of speech, he had a wry sense of humour. One Halloween, he dressed up as a confederate general. After that, we went over to the recruitment office where Doug tried to enlist in the Canadian military, only to be informed that he was a bit too old (and that he was interested in the wrong war).

    I listened to a last interview with Doug just before he died and it was clear he was in pain. Still, his determination and cause were as strong as ever. I learned much from that interview and listening to it gave me some closure.

    My greatest regret was not being able to see Doug before he died. This column will have to suffice.

    © Nathan Segal

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