VICTORIA. March 15, 2013. “Today we are laying a saint to rest,” proclaimed Fr. Lucien Larre, who said the funeral Mass this foggy morning for Doug Christie, Canada’s foremost free speech lawyer.” He fought for what was right,” said Order of Canada winner and psychologist Fr. Larre, “no matter the threats to his life or the number of times his office windows were broken. He stood tall.”
Twice in three days, Canadians have buried a taller than life man, known for his cowboy boots and black hat. Folks crowded a Peterborough hockey arena, March 13, to say farewell to Country and Western icon Stompin’ Tom Connors, the boy from Skinner’s Cove, PEI, who gave us songs like Sudbury Saturday Night, Bud the Spud, My Stompin’ Grounds, that celebrated Canada.
Today in Victoria, a Western Canadian who struggled for more than 30 years to uphold another Canadian value, freedom of speech, even for people vilified by the press for their unpopular views, was buried. Doug Christie, a proud Scotsman, would have smiled as a lean piper piped his casket into a crowded St. Andrew’s Cathedral in downtown Victoria. A large bouquet of vivid red roses and Mr. Christie’s black Australian outback hat graced the top of the casket.
Fr. Larre hailed Doug Christie as “a real Westerner, a man with ideals and aspirations as high as the Rockies. He stood for a better Canada, a freer Canada,” the priest told the packed cathedral made up of mourners who had been Mr. Christie’s family, friends, clients, neighbours, and, in several cases, the beneficiaries of his kindness.
Father Lucien Larre
The Battling Barrister ” had the ideals our soldiers died for — for freedom — but we do not have certain freedoms, like freedom of speech, in Canada today,” said Fr. Larre, who returned his Order of Canada honour in protest when the same honour was bestowed some years ago on mass abortionist Henry Morgenthaler. “What mattered to Doug Christie is a man’s right to speak. He believed people have the right to go to court whether they can afford it or not,” he added.
In a stirring eulogy to his father, Caderyn Christie, a second year law student, shared memories of a complex man — the battling lawyer so well known to the public, the politician, the devoted father, the private man with a wicked sense of fun and humour.
“A man like my dad was not meant to die in a hospital bed but on a battlefield with a sword and shield,” he said. And Doug Christie very nearly did die in the battle ground of the courtroom. For days during a three week trial in Victoria, Mr. Christie had been in mounting pain, fighting nausea and sleeplessness, but refusing painkillers lest they dull his wits. Finally, on Thursday, February 21, he was too ill to finish his summation and was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with advanced terminal liver cancer.
One of Doug Christie’s heroes was Confederate General Robert E. Lee whose portrait hung in his office. Lee advised: “Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less.”
Doug Christie took this to heart and was driven by a sense of duty.
Caderyn revealed that Doug often recalled growing up in Winnipeg and that there was always food on the table but just enough. Doug paid his way through the University of Winnipeg working on the railway and as a lifeguard at Banff Hotsprings. For a while he lived in a top floor garret that was scorching in the summer and leaked snow and rain in the frigid Winnipeg winter. Other part-time work paid Doug’s way through law school at the University of British Columbia. Doug’s single-minded goal was to practise law.
He was part way through articling for a Victoria firm when an accidental error in judgement angered a prominent client and the law firm let Doug go. He was in near despair seeing his career stymied before it even began, his son recalled. Then, a single practitioner in Victoria, Barney Russ, gave the Winnipeg law student a break and took him on as an articling student. Nine months later, Doug was called to the bar and began a 42-year career in law.
Years later, Doug Christie visited Barney Russ who was dying of cancer. Doug asked what he could ever do to thank or repay Mr. Russ for having given him a chance. “Pass it on,” he gasped with laboured breathing.
That had become a driving force in Doug’s life, his son recalled: “He chose to defend people who would otherwise be unrepresented and he paid dearly in his personal and professional life.” Although he had struggled hard to become a lawyer and succeeded, “he was very frugal with himself.”
Caderyn Christie said his father was “profoundly kind to his children. He was also a proud Scotsman and taught us kids how to pull the nails out of a 2′ x 4″ and reuse them.” And, yet, Doug would treat a man who was a regular panhandler at the church doors to a lunch once a month. He didn’t just toss him a looney as he walked by.
Caderyn concluded his eulogy with words that left many an eye wet: “Robert Louis Stevenson said: ‘A leader is one who keeps his fears to himself and shows his courage to others.’ That was my father. He lived fully, he lived freely and laughed every chance he got.”
In his closing remarks, commenting on Doug Christie’s ever present cowboy boots, celebrant priest Fr. Larre quoted a line from Country and Western singer George Jones song Who’s Going to Fill Those Shoes? “We must get together for free speech and try to fill those shoes,” he urged. — Paul Fromm
Leaders of Canada’s free speech movement at the reception at Doug Christie’s funeral in Victoria, BC., March 15, 2013: Dave “The Unlicensed Man” Lindsay; Paul Fromm, Director Canadian Association for Free Expression; expert witness on Internet and computer technology, Bernard Klatt; and Marc Lemire, webmaster of the Freedomsite, the only victim to win under Canada’s notorious Sec. 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (Internet censorship).