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Saturday , 31 October 2020

Cold Lake lawyer refutes accusations of racist, extreme views

Cold Lake lawyer Leighton Grey feels he’s the latest example of “cancel culture” after he was forced to resign from a provincial judicial vetting committee in mid-June.

Grey is a senior partner at Grey Wowk Spencer LLP and has been practicing law since the mid-1990s with a focus on restorative justice for Indigenous people.

Nine months ago, he said he was approached to join the board of the Provincial Court Nominating Committee, and was appointed in April.

He said he was forced to resign last month from the position by the provincial government after he came under fire for videos and posts he shared on social media.

A CBC story published on June 19 labelled Grey a racist, far right, extreme, and anti-Semetic by legal professionals and members of anti-hate groups for posts he shared on his LinkedIn account, which he’s since taken down.

One video Grey shared by the YouTube channel Conservative Twins, was titled “Black Lives Matter is a Leftist Lie” and Grey added the caption “BLM has been hijacked and funded by [George] Soros for his own evil agenda.”

The video talks about the All Lives Matter vs Black Lives Matter debate, as well as the origins of the BLM movement after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missiouri in 2014 where protests and riots resulted.

He was called anti-Semetic for reposting an article that said George Soros, billionaire philanthropist and financier, and Holocaust survivor, conspired to financially manipulate judges on the European Court of Human Rights.

Tom Engels, who chairs the policing committee for the Edmonton-based Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association in Alberta, was quoted in the story as saying that Grey had no place being in charge of screening judges.

Grey dismissed these claims from the CBC article and told Lakeland Connect that he’s not a racist.

Grey is a status Indian and since 2003 he has been involved in over 200 hearings on Residential School claims and is heading up a class-action lawsuit for restorative justice against “Indian Day Schools” in Bonnyville, while also occasionally publishing opinion columns on Lakeland Connect.

In late 2019, Grey was named this year’s recipient of the Gary J. Biggs Champion of Justice award, given to a legal professional a year who works on behalf of people who are underprivileged or victims of injustice.

“Everyone around here knows that I’m not a racist. We’ve hired three Muslim lawyers in the past two years. I’m Indigenous myself. My grandmother spent 16 years at a residential school.

“So these labels really are hard to stick on me. But notwithstanding that they went ahead and they published this.”

Influences

When asked, Grey cited modern thinkers Dr. Thomas Sowell, Dr. Jordan Peterson, and Douglas Murray as well as ancient stoics as his influences, describing himself a libertarian.

Libertarianism is generally described as a political philosophy concerned with protecting the rights of the individual and is skeptical of government power.

He said he advocates for personal responsibility and the individual, instead of the collective.

Grey said upon his judicial appointment that: “I shall consider it my mission to help select the most qualified candidates, regardless of their race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation or political affiliation,” Grey wrote on LinkedIn.

“In short, I pledge to have no regard for identity politics of any kind. Lady Justice does wear a blindfold after all.”

While defending his decision to share these posts, he recalled Rev. Martin Luther King’s famous freedom speech in light of his restorative justice work, as a springboard to difficult conversations about racism and injustice.

“The thrust of his message was that it’s not the color of your skin, or what group you identify with, but it’s the content of your character that defines the relevance of your speech. The content of your character,” said Grey.

“That is totally consistent with what Martin Luther King believed, what he died for. And the content of my character should make me someone who has something relevant to say about things like racism, things like justice, things like freedom.

“The irony is that today, the greatest, arguably the greatest black man in American history, what he said, what he lived and what he died for, is the very opposite of what Black Lives Matter says. Black Lives Matter says it doesn’t matter what the content of your character is, what matters is you are one of us, you are part of our ideology and our message. It goes from the individual focus to the group.

“That conversation isn’t happening anymore.”

Grey is concerned that conversations about controversial issues like race and gender are being shut down and people are afraid to engage for fear of being ostracized.

He said conservatives are fearful about losing the pillars of the Constitution and individual rights while leftists, who he described as people weaponizing identity politics, are fearful that they have to fight to stamp out injustice.

“We have to get away from this fight or flight response. And we have to restore the dignity of a meaningful conversation. I can say things to you that might offend you, but we can talk about it. And you can say things to me that might offend me and we can talk about it.

“We may not agree, we might have to respectfully disagree. As John Stuart Mill put it, the right of your fist ends where my nose begins. Well, my nose becomes irrelevant under cancel culture, if you take my head off, my nose is on the floor, right?”

Next steps

“I received a very, very gratifying outpouring of support. Some people I didn’t even know. There was a Bencher of the Law Society of Ontario reached out to me. An African lawyer, in fact, who’s from Nigeria, who I’ve worked with a lot from Edmonton reached out to me and he said, ‘I know this isn’t true, you’re not any kind of racist.’ And so, a lot of support.”

Moving forward, Grey said he may pursue legal action against those who criticized him in the article, including the CBC and the provincial NDP.

About Michael Menzies

Menzies is the editor-at-large for Connect Media. Born and raised in Vermilion, he started in May 2018 during his NAIT Radio and Television practicum and reports on local politics, sports, and community issues. He became the Bonnyville Pontiacs play-by-play voice during the 2019-20 season. He also comments on provincial and national issues. Menzies hosts Connected! Evening Monday-Thursday at 5 o’clock. He also likes to buy books and read some of them.