By BERNIE BELLAN How many times are we going to revisit a story that has already received more than ample coverage within the pages of this newspaper – especially a story which one might have thought had been put to rest long ago?
The answer, in the case of Lesley Hughes, who achieved a level of notoriety in 2008 when she was unceremoniously turfed as the Liberal candidate in the federal riding of Kildonan-St. Paul during that year’s election, is: at least one more time.
The reason is that Hughes has just recently published a short book, titled “The Dead Candidate’s Report”, in which she offers her version of the events surrounding her forced exit as the federal Liberal candidate for the riding of Kildonan-St. Paul during the 2008 election, and the ensuing damage, both to her career as a journalist and her personal life as a result of that forced exit.
Looking back over our past coverage of the Hughes story, I see that we’ve run three previous articles about what happened: In July 1, 2009, we ran a story by Myron Love which I titled “Hughes Sues Jews”, in which Myron reported that “Last fall, Federal Liberal hopeful Lesley Hughes generated national headlines when it was revealed that she wrote an article in the Winnipeg Sun on May 5, 2002, alleging that the Israeli, American, German and Russian intelligence agencies all had advance warning of the Al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001.”
(Ed. note: Hughes’ exact words, with reference to advance Israeli knowledge of the attacks, were: “Israeli businesses, which had offices in the Towers, vacated the premises a week before the attacks, breaking their lease to do it. About 3,000 Americans working there were not so lucky.”
In that article, Hughes indicated she was quoting internet journalist Mike Ruppert who, she notes in her recently published book, “The Dead Candidate’s Report”, “claimed to have two independent sources about the move” but whose “sources were sealed forever when he allegedly committed suicide in 2014.”
In her book, Hughes admits that “a later explanation for the move was that the existing firm had decided to leave months earlier, breaking their lease as a routine cost of business.”)
Myron’s 2009 article went on to note that Hughes “also posted the article on a United Church of Canada website.
“As a result of the revelation, the former CBC broadcaster (she co-hosted the CBC Winnipeg morning show for a number of years) was forced to step down as the Liberal candidate for Kildonan-St. Paul. (She ran as an independent in the October election and finished a distant third.)
“Now Hughes is back in the news with a lawsuit she has filed against federal cabinet minister Peter Kent, the Canadian Jewish Congress and B’nai Brith Canada, as well as Frank Dimant, BBC’s executive vice-president, CJC co-presidents Rabbi Reuven Bulka and Sylvain Abitbol, and Bernie Farber, the CJC’s former CEO.
“Hughes filed the suit in Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench on June 16. She alleges that the defendants ‘made untrue and defamatory accusations’ that she is anti-Semitic. She charges that senior members of B’nai Brith and the CJC went to see then Liberal leader Stephane Dion on September 25, with her 2002 article and persuaded Dion to drop her as a candidate on the grounds that she was anti-Semitic and ‘unfit to hold public office.
“In her lawsuit, she quotes a press release issued on September 27 by B’nai Brith’s Dimant in which he charges that Hughes has a ‘record of anti-Semitism’.”
In February 2013 Myron reported on a settlement reached between Hughes and the defendants to her lawsuit:
“This past week it was revealed that Hughes reached out-of-court settlements with the parties to her lawsuits.
“Following is an excerpt from a publication of joint statement issued by the parties concerned:
“ ‘Journalist Lesley Hughes, Canadian Jewish Congress, B’nai Brith Canada and Peter Kent MP (Thornhill) wish to clarify comments that each made during the 2008 Federal Election campaign regarding an article written by Lesley Hughes in 2002, in which she re-published statements that made presumptions of an anti-Semitic nature in connection with the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre.
‘Ms. Hughes was dismissed as a Liberal candidate in the election after the 2002 article was raised in the media.
‘During the election Canadian Jewish Congress, B’nai Brith Canada and Peter Kent each raised concerns about statements in the 2002 article which repeated false allegations that Israel or Israeli tenants were forewarned of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and did not warn others. Comments made by Canadian Jewish Congress, B’nai Brith Canada and Peter Kent were published in the media and Ms. Hughes filed a defamation claim in respect of the comments.
‘Canadian Jewish Congress, B’nai Brith Canada, and Peter Kent accept that Ms. Hughes does not condone the use of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories by racist groups to support anti-Semitism of any nature. They therefore acknowledge and agree that Ms. Hughes is not an anti-Semite. In fact, Ms. Hughes has been an advocate of human rights through three decades as a journalist and teacher.
‘Ms. Hughes confirms that she has and will continue to be a strong supporter of the work of any individual or group who exposes false public statements that might do harm to the Jewish community, and more specifically that are anti-Semitic and racist.
‘Ms. Hughes joins with Canadian Jewish Congress, B’nai Brith Canada, and Peter Kent in strongly condemning anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. They find anti-Semitism and all forms of racism, to be deeply contemptible behavior.’ “
Then, in December 2015, in that year’s Chanukah issue we reprinted an excerpt from a forthcoming book by Hughes, in which she offered further background to the story. Hughes had contacted us, asking whether we would run the story verbatim, including this headline: “An Enemy of the Jews”. We agreed to that and ran the story in its entirety (It ran over five different pages. You can still read the entire story on our website. Simply enter the names “Lesley Hughes” in our search engine and you will find the entire December 9, 2015 issue in which Hughes’ piece appears.)
Now, all this may seem like quite a long preamble to a book review, but I thought it necessary to put what follows into a certain context. Given that Lesley Hughes has been adamant in protesting her innocence over the charge that she was anti-Semitic – and I have no doubt of the unfairness of that charge, given the fact that we have bent over backwards to treat her fairly within this newspaper, I wonder if there really is any further need to comment on a story that has gone on for so long.
But, when we ran a story in our last issue about another defamation lawsuit that had also been settled and in which B’nai Brith had been named as a defendant, I thought the juxtaposition of the two cases reflects poorly on B’nai Brith Canada – and its occasional willingness to engage in over the top criticism.
The most recent case had to do with an article B’nai Brith had published about former Green Party candidate (and more recently, a contestant for the party’s leadership), Dimitri Lascaris.
(I should also note that in September 2018 I did an interview with Dimitri Lascaris which can still be accessed on Youtube, although I admit it’s not easy to find. As much as Lascaris is decidedly critical of Israeli policies toward Palestinians, by no means would I describe him as “an advocate on behalf of terrorists”, which is what B’nai Brith did.)
The reason I thought it important to note that B’nai Brith has now settled lawsuits with two different individuals who had filed libel lawsuits against the organization is that it illustrates the danger involved in labeling someone either “anti-Semitic”, as was B’nai Brith’s allegation about Hughes, or “an advocate on behalf of terrorists”, as was the case with B’nai Brith’s allegation about Lascaris.
Regardless what one may have thought about what Lesley Hughes had written in the particular article which ended up causing her so much grief, or what Dimitri Lascaris’s record is with regard to criticizing Israel, one should be very careful when it comes to accusing individuals either of being “anti-Semitic” or “advocates on behalf of terrorists”, especially when those individuals are Canadian citizens and have recourse to the courts here.
With all that in mind, is there anything new in Lesley Hughes’ recently published book,
“The Dead Candidate’s Report”, which is a very short read at only 107 pages (including appendices)?
On the website for her book, Hughes describes it as “a memoir of my 2008 run for parliament, my defamation as an anti-semite and conspiracy monger, and the lawsuit that cleared me of all accusations”. Unfortunately, due to the terms of the settlement agreement reached between Hughes and the defendants to her lawsuit, she is not allowed to discuss the terms of settlement.
What she does discuss, at great length, is the devastating consequences that her being forced to withdraw as the Liberal candidate for Kildonan-St. Paul had, both on her personal life and career – when she was shunned by many of her former colleagues in the media, along with many other individuals with whom she had developed relationships over her many years as a commentator and radio host, including many Jewish friends.
Leaving aside the mistake Hughes may have made in repeating a since debunked claim that Israelis had prior knowledge of the attack on the World Trade Centre, what followed was certainly devastating for Hughes.
Even when she was vindicated in a court of law and the defendants to her lawsuit apologized for having labeled her an antisemite, as she was about to discover, news of the defendants’ apologies and retractions of the charge was generally ignored within the mainstream media.
As Hughes writes, “When confronted by personal and professional devastation in 2008, at least I was able to turn to an overpriced, self-serving legal system. I have won back my reputation, by way of a lawsuit, but there is no remedy for the unyielding non-coverage of my vindication. No consequences. No accountability. No more action to be taken.”
For Lesley Hughes, at least, while the lessons she may have learned about the dangers inherent in taking any sort of a controversial position in public may have been salutary indeed, what does her experience have to say about anyone else who may be contemplating entering into politics – or who may already be involved in politics?
I certainly wouldn’t be the first to point out the dangers that exist for just about anyone who may have ever tweeted or posted to Facebook anything the least bit controversial. In 2016 this paper itself played an instrumental role in raising awareness of overtly anti-Semitic tweets that had been posted by a doctor by the name of Hussam Azzam, and which had been scrubbed from his Twitter feed – but not before someone who had been monitoring Azzam’s tweets had taken screenshots of them – and ended up giving me those screenshots.
Subsequently Assam was fired as the Chief Medical Officer at St. Boniface Hospital.
So, I’m well aware of the power even a small newspaper such as this can have in affecting the careers – and ultimately the lives, of individuals. In Lesley Hughes’ case, the likelihood is that her controversial columns about 9/11 conspiracies might well have gone ignored for the most part (although she does acknowledge that a column which she wrote for two Winnipeg weekly newspapers in 2002 about 9/11 in which she suggested that the United States brought about the attacks upon itself by its past behaviour did elicit some very angry responses from a great many readers of those papers), had she not inserted a suggestion that Israelis had foreknowledge of the attacks on the World Trade Centre, she would probably have been allowed to remain a Liberal candidate in 2008.
It was only because a blogger (whom she doesn’t identify in her book, but whom we identified as “The Black Rod”, a very well known blogger here who has a record of important scoops over the years) decided, in 2008, to publicize an article Hughes had written in 2002, that Hughes’ was cast into political and personal purgatory.
And, as we have just seen in the most recent federal election, it doesn’t take all that much to have candidates forced to remove themselves as candidates for political office. I think in particular of an NDP candidate by the name of Dan Osborne who, as a teenager tweeted at Oprah Winfrey (of all people), “was Auschwitz a real place?”
Who knows what the context was for that seemingly silly question, but let’s be honest: Is asking that question, especially by a young person who may simply be ignorant, in and of itself anti-Semitic or is it perhaps simply an indication of ignorance on the questioner’s part? But, as I’m sure Lesley Hughes can explain to Mr. Osborne: You can’t be too careful these days in posting anything that might potentially be used some day to cause great embarrassment to you. And, once you’ve been shamed in public, there’s no getting back your reputation, no matter all the apologies and retractions you might end up receiving.