Trial begins in university professor's defamation lawsuit against Ezra Levant

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A university professor and former Liberal Party candidate’s defamation lawsuit against pundit Ezra Levant has made it to court six years after it was filed.

On Monday, Edmonton Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Shaina Leonard heard opening arguments in the case of Farhan Chak, who launched a lawsuit against Levant in 2015 over comments Levant made on his Sun News Network program.

According to Chak’s statement of claim, Levant alleged during his Feb. 25, 2014, broadcast that Chak was involved in a shooting at an Edmonton nightclub in 1993, when Chak was 19.

Chak was acquitted of the 1993 charges in what he called “a case of mistaken identity.” He vehemently denied any involvement in the shooting, saying he was at his parents’ home with friends and had “absolutely no knowledge of what transpired.”

For reasons that remain under dispute, neither the plaintiffs or the defendants were able to obtain a transcript of the 1993 trial.

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Chak won the Liberal nomination in Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont under Stéphane Dion in 2007 but eventually withdrew his candidacy amid controversy stemming in part from the charges.

Levant is now the head of Rebel Media, while Chak is a professor at Qatar University with a doctorate in political science.

A file photo of Farhan Chak, when he was a Liberal candidate in Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont.A file photo of Farhan Chak, when he was a Liberal candidate in Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont.

Levant made the allegation as part of a monologue about human rights commissions (Chak’s brother was a lawyer at the time for the Alberta Human Rights Commission.)

Leonard is expected to hear from six witnesses, the majority of whom will be called by the defence. The bulk of Monday’s hearing was testimony from Chak, who appeared by video from Qatar.

Chak lived much of his life in Edmonton, the son of refugees from Jammu and Kashmir.

He said Levant’s statements had a “devastating” effect, including on his health and his career prospects.

Chak’s lawyer, Imran Qureshi, said his client was never given an opportunity to respond, and that Levant’s statements were “at best reckless and at worst malicious.”

“This was not by accident,” Qureshi said. “The very purpose of the broadcast and the defamatory statement was to villainize Dr. Chak.”

Chak’s 2015 statement of claim seeks $1 million in damages.

Levant’s lawyer, Barry Zalmanowitz, cross-examined Chak on his memories from the 1994 trial.

Levant’s statement of defence argues that the statements were “substantially true.” He also claims the defences of fair comment, qualified privilege and responsible communication on a matter of public interest.

Other defendants in the case include Sun News, Sun Media Corp. and Quebecor Media Inc.

Postmedia, this newspaper’s parent company, purchased Sun Media’s English language newspapers in 2015.

The trial is scheduled to run four days.

jwakefield@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/jonnywakefield

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