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Controversial B.C. lawyer Doug Christie dies at the age of 66

Lawyer Doug Christie is seen in a November 2008 file photo.

GEOFF HOWE/The Canadian Press

Supporters called Victoria lawyer Doug Christie a staunch defender of free speech while detractors criticized his legal defence of people charged with hate crimes.

Christie died in hospital on Monday night at the age of 66.

His wife, Keltie Zubko, told The Canadian Press her husband, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011, died of metastatic liver disease.

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She said Christie was surrounded by his family.

Christie's client list includes former Nazi prison guard Michael Seifert, Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel and self-proclaimed Nazi-sympathizer Paul Fromm.

Zundel, who maintains the Holocaust never occurred, was convicted in 1985 for "spreading false news" about Jewish people and sentenced to 15 months in jail.

Seifert was convicted of war crimes and eventually extradited to Italy where he was to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Another of Christie's cases concerned aboriginal leader David Ahenakew, who was stripped of his Order of Canada for comments he made about Jews.

The legal saga over Ahenakew's comments ended in 2009 when Saskatchewan justice officials decided not to appeal his acquittal.

Christie later argued that Ahenakew should get back the Order of Canada.

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Christie also defended Alberta teacher Jim Keegstra, who was initially convicted of promoting hatred against Jewish people but his conviction was later throw out by the Alberta appeal court.

Christie also found himself in trouble with the B.C. Law Society in 2008 when he was accused of professional misconduct and slapped with a hefty fine.

In 2003, Christie had authorized three subpoenas that contained documents affixed with a forged court stamp. Although Christie was not found to be involved in the forged subpoenas, the law society said he did ask his untrained client to prepare the documents.

In its decision, the Law Society of British Columbia ordered Christie to pay two fines totalling $22,500 but noted it did not want to give him a fine he wasn't able to pay because it might force him out of practising law.

"The panel described Christie's work as a valuable contribution to our free society, often performed pro bono or for greatly reduced fees, and stated its desire that Christie be able to continue with that work," said a society bulletin.

On his website, Christie, who attended law school at the University of British Columbia from 1967-1979, described himself as 'Canada's most prolific defender of free speech."

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Christie also acknowledged that because of the clients he represented, he was seen as a right-wing extremist, a Nazi, or an anti-Semite — smear words he said were inaccurate and unfair.

He said he was an individualist who recognizes every other person's right to be so assessed.

"It was principles of freedom that caused me to step off the beaten path" wrote Christie.

"It is the love of freedom that keeps me off the path of slaves."

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