The man they love to...cyper hate
Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman in fight of lifetime against racists
By RANDY RICHMOND, Sun Media
Richard Warman exposes the beliefs of racists whenever he can, especially by taking them and their websites to the Human Rights Commission. (Geoff Robins SUN)
The first day he bought the bike, Richard Warman made it look like junk.
He wrapped the entire glittering bike, which cost him three weeks' pay, in black hockey tape.
Over the next 14 years, the tape faded to a putrid grey and the edges curled, the gears and other workings grew out of date and mechanics told him to buy a new bike instead of keeping this one on the road.
Warman, 35, still rides that bike every day to work in Ottawa. When he settles into a favourite pub, it is clear he and the old bike are well-suited to each other. Warman orders a vegetarian meal and insists on reusing his beer glass to save on dishwashing water.
When the interview continues in his apartment, he introduces cats -- abused or abandoned by previous owners -- that he rehabilitates for an animal shelter.
With a thin build, receding red hair shaved to the skull and glasses, he looks the part of the lefty, bicycle-obsessed lawyer he is.
But he's also as tough and scrappy as that bike. And he's smart enough now to keep much of his life under wraps.
Warman has incurred the wrath of North America's neo-Nazis, racists, skinheads, conspiracy theorists and supremacist leaders of all white-on-white stripes.
Death threats are posted on websites. He is called 'an enemy of free speech, and enemy of freedom,' the 'high priest of censorship.'
British conspiracy writer David Icke (www.davidicke.com) devotes entire pages in his books to attacking Warman. Skinheads protest outside his office. They post photographs of his parents on websites.
And recently, on a huge international white power website, someone posted maps to where Warman supposedly lives, photographs of him at hearings, and details of his family. At night, he gets calls from as far away as Texas.
Warman's crime? Exposing the beliefs of neo-Nazis whenever he can, and especially by taking white supremacists and their websites to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
He has filed 10 human rights complaints, with one win, one case in an adjudicator's office awaiting a ruling, and the others either being investigated or heading to a hearing.
If they lose, the white supremacists have to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines and compensation.
'Richard is bugging the pants off these people. They don't have money,' says noted hate fighter Matt Lauder of Guelph.
'They are running scared.'
Deep in the battle, perhaps deeper than he expected, Warman offers a grim sigh in response to all the hate he is getting by trying to fight Internet hate.
'What am I supposed to do? The stuff is there. Something has to be done about it, right?'
Then he adds: 'It would nice if the system was going after it, not me.'
Warman maintains a lack of action on the part of police, attorney s general and especially on the part of the Human Rights Commission, has forced him to fight the cyberspace battle by himself.
The scourge of those who celebrate all things Germanic, at least the dark side of German history, all things military, all things white and Christian, was himself born the son of a military officer in Lahr, West Germany.
The irony is not lost on Warman.
'Where did it all go horribly wrong?' he asks with a laugh.
When he was young, the family moved back to a small town in Ontario. His father left the army and became first an educator, then politician. His mother took on many jobs in the community. They were good, old-fashioned Bill Davis Tories in the Protestant heartland. No one got angry over politics or religion.
'There was definitely an awareness of politics and social discus- sions at home, But it wasn't, 'Let's all go to a rally this week.' '
Still, he had enough political acumen to get on student council every year of high school and as president his final year.
In high school, he balanced a love of drama with a love of rough-and-tumble sports such as rugby and hockey.
'I loved lacrosse. There's lot of running and lots of exercise and you get to wale on people with sticks. What could be better than that?' he says.
'It was a typical high school life in small town Ontario. You know, go to school dances, get drunk, throw up in the washrooms.'
He signed up for politics at Queen's University but switched to drama because he found his politics professors too conservative for his liking.
Outside classes, he joined the Green Party, eventually running unsuccessfully as a candidate in two provincial and two federal elections.
He also grew interested in human rights issues, especially hate crime. In 1991, after graduation, he got a job working as warehouse manager for Toronto's Daily Bread Food Bank.
He bought his bicycle and one day headed to the Canadian Human Rights' tribunal hearing against the Heritage Front telephone hateline.
'The human rights lawyer, Eddie Taylor, was kicking the Heritage Front all over the court.'
The group was ordered to cease its telephone operation. Warman put that experience in his back pocket and embarked on a two-year adventure as a bit of a vagabond, working here and there, bicycling through Europe and travelling through Australia.
By the time he arrived back in Canada in 1995, Warman was ready to bear down and get his law degree in Windsor. He won a handful of awards for ethics and academic excellence, then got his master's at McGill University.
That led to several different positions with the federal court and government in Ottawa.
Meanwhile, in about 2000, Warman started looking more closely at white supremacist websites.
'No one else was doing it. It is a little esoteric,' he acknowledges. 'Not everyone stumbles across hate propaganda in their everyday lives.'
And it is difficult for many to make the link between website hate and violence on the streets, Warman says.
HATRED NOT INSTANT
'Each generation removed from the horrors of the Second World War has a harder time relating propaganda to pogroms,' he says.
'Hatred doesn't spring up overnight. People just don't wake up and go, 'You know what? I think I hate blacks today.' It is conditioned into them. It is done by means of propaganda.'
Warman's first Internet target was Fred Kyburz of Coleman, Alta., and his website, patriotsonguard.org. Jews, Kyburz said, were murderers, child pornographers, pedophiles and sex slave traders.
In March 2003, a human rights tribunal ruled against Kyburz and ordered he pay $30,000 in fines to the government and compensation for the personal attacks on Warman.
By 2003, Warman was also working at the Human Rights Commission office as an investigator.
When white supremacists found out, they howled about a conflict of interest. How could a lawyer filing human rights complaints on his own time also work as an investigator of human rights complaints, they asked.
They protested outside the commission office. Security staff at the commission began opening all of Warman's mail.
The lawyer hardly smoothed the waters, pushing the commission to initiate its own complaints.
'Let's just say I was always poking them with a sharp stick.'
When the commission decided to make cutbacks last year, Warman says he was the only investigator laid off.
He found new work easily enough but he remains frustrated with the commission's lack of initiative.
It shouldn't be up to individuals to tackle Internet hate at their own expense and danger, when an entire government body has the power and responsibility to do it, Warman says.
After Warman won against Kyburz, he realized the commission won't enforce rulings either. He had to hire a bailiff to see if Kyburz could pay and used a Federal Court order to have the site taken down, Warman says. He has yet to get a cent out of Kyburz.
Commission spokesperson Jean-Christophe Vlasiu acknowledges the commission has the power to initiate complaints about hate communication, 'but has not done so in recent years.'
The commission focuses more on preventing discrimination, he says. But, he adds, the commission is getting so many complaints now about Internet hate messages it's developing a long-term strategy to deal with the issue.
Warman sticks by his claims.
'It's not as if the human rights commission doesn't take the lead on these cases. It doesn't take the lead and doesn't take the middle or the end, either.'
Warman expected a strong reaction from white supremacists. His family is worried about the threats and Ottawa police have developed a security plan for him, which he will not discuss.
'You have to walk a fine line between being concerned and being paranoid.'
The neo-Nazis alarm him, but not as much as the failure of the system to deal with the problem, Warman says.
He is waiting to see what happens with his first set of complaints before the commission. If the complaints are thrown out, if the system fails, he will have to re-evaluate his personal stake in the battle.
'The question has to be asked, is this tilting at windmills?'