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Victoria lawyer Doug Christie, who defended Zundel and Keegstra, is dying

A Victoria lawyer who has earned a reputation among some as a fearless defender of free speech and others as an apologist for hate criminals is dying.
Victoria lawyer Doug Christie.

A Victoria lawyer who has earned a reputation among some as a fearless defender of free speech and others as an apologist for hate criminals is dying.

Doug Christie, 66, has been admitted to Royal Jubilee Hospital and in a Monday telephone interview, confirmed doctors have told him he has cancer in his liver and about six months to live.

He expressed gratitude to those who have shown him kindness and to Victoria, “the most beautiful city in all Canada.” His only regret is leaving his clients without representation, he said. “There are still some big battles ahead.”

Christie is one of the most well-known and controversial lawyers in Canada. Defendants in his high-profile court cases include Jim Keegstra, the Alberta teacher who was fired for teaching his students that Jews were conspiring to take over the world and convicted of spreading hate, and Ernst Zundel, a Toronto printer who distributed a tract questioning whether six million Jews died during the Holocaust. Christie won the latter case, forcing a rewrite of the Canadian Criminal Code after the law against “spreading false news” was ruled unconstitutional. He even successfully defended a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Christie has always been careful not to publicly support the views of his clients, insisting his cases were about protecting the right to free speech.

But his controversial caseload earned him many critics. In 1993, the Law Society of Upper Canada wrote that based on his comments during the trial of alleged Nazi war criminal Imre Finta, Christie had “crossed the fine line separating counsel from client.” But the society nevertheless dropped misconduct charges against him.

For his clients, he will always be “the battling barrister,” the lawyer who never hesitated to stand by them and defend their right to have an opinion and to speak it aloud.

“I am very grateful I had the chance to battle for thought, to choose what I thought was the right thing,” Christie said Monday. “The power of the state is an absolute power and like all absolute power, tends over time to be corrupted.”

Christie also expressed gratitude for the chance to earn his living the way he did, calling defence lawyers the only thing standing between citizens and state oppression. “Without defence lawyers, you wouldn’t even need the courts — you would need only a police state,” he said.

Christie’s Victoria friend Barclay Johnson said Christie has attracted clients who are not especially likable. “But you don’t necessarily have to share the view of your clients when you take on cases.”

He said Christie modelled much of his life after Robert E. Lee, the American Civil War-era Confederate general, who also took on a cause with the odds against him. “Doug has a very strong belief in representing people in those situations,” said Johnson. “He is a real fighter and a gentleman as well.”

He said Christie was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in November 2011 and underwent chemotherapy. The disease now appears to have spread. Christie has been married for 31 years and has two children, a 22-year-old son and a 20-year-old daughter.

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