The Canadian “battling barrister” Douglas H. Christie, who has spent his career defending the rights of some of the most vituperative haters in his country and internationally, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, according an excellent National Post article by Joseph Brean. For 30 years, Christie invariably privileged the principle of freedom of expression over exigent calls for repression and reprisals. He embodied, during a distinguished career that won him enmity from millions, Voltaire’s famous dictate: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Christie conducted his business with the forbearance of a saint–he compared himself to the sainted Belgian priest Father Damien, who cared for lepers in Hawaii–even as his client list was, by almost any definition, a gallery of sinners. Racists were his specialty: the holocaust denier, the Nazi camp guard, any number of hate group organizers. Christie sometimes ran into trouble himself standing so close to the edge, and the line between him and his clients was often too blurry for the average person to see. But it remains a very rare professional whose stalwart commitment to principle allows him to see beyond its frequently hurtful exercise to the danger which must necessarily arise from its failure to be upheld. The world–and its sociopaths–will have to wait to see if anyone will fit in his horrible, valorous shoes.