Anti-Gay Rev. Raises Free Speech Query

Canadian Courts To Hear Queer Case

Canada’s become a free speech battleground. Our neighbors to the north are preparing for a hearing on whether or not a homophobic reverend should be held accountable for a letter equating homos with pedophiles and drug addicts.

Reverend Stephen Boissoin‘s 2002 open letter read,

From kindergarten class on, our children, your grandchildren are being strategically targeted, psychologically abused and brainwashed by homosexual and pro-homosexual educators.

Your children are being warped into believing that same-sex families are acceptable; that kissing men is appropriate.

If that’s true, we’re way fucked.

The no-so-charming man went on to admonish gay activists’ allegedly abominable actions, saying, “[They are] just as immoral as the pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps that plague our communities.” What about holy rollers who are full of hate? They’re a far more petulant plague, we think.

Boissoin’s harsh words grabbed plenty of attention, including a straight human rights activist, University of Calgary Professor Darren Lund, who spearheaded the human rights campaign against the “good” Reverend. Lund’s definitely found some queer allies, including Christ-loving lobbyists, the Concerned Christians Canada Ltd. While one may assume gay activists would be all over this like flies on shit, not everyone’s so gung-ho about the hearing. Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere “vehemently” oppose Boissoin’s ugly letter, but respect his freedom of speech. They’ve definitely got a point – not only do we whole-heartedly support free speech, a Lund victory would only further alienate religious fundamentalists. Further, it would give them plenty of ammunition for their anti-gay crusades.

No doubt the case counts as one of Canada’s most important looks at human rights. As Boisson’s lawyer remarks,

It’s going to be a very significant case, probably the most significant constitutional case involving human rights legislation that has ever been considered in Alberta.

The hearings, which begin today, are estimated to take about three-days – the most exciting in gay Canadian history.

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  • George Bubble

    I’m not convinced that this is a landmark anything. If Boissoin were accusing Canada’s Jews of drinking Christian blood, the argument could be made that he is exercising his free speech. But (ignorant as I am about Canadian law) I’m fairly sure he would be convicted of libel, defamation, hate speech, or some variation on that theme.

    Boissoin is basically accusing gays of committing crimes. He is certainly making unfounded statements that could reasonably be expected to provoke hatred and violence against the gay community.

    I’m not entirely sure whether he should be found guilty or not. My point is that if he is, it won’t really prove anything, because it isn’t an issue purely of free speech. It isn’t his opinion that is being censored – it’s his decision to present defamatory lies as a result of that opinion. At any rate, that’s how I see this.

  • nycstudman

    I’m agin it. Canada’s laws are much more restrictive than ours, but it’s a sword that cuts both ways, to wit: They interdict porn from US if it has anything remotely offensive, like implication of incest.

  • speedsausage

    Agreed, this isn’t landmark. Probably the most significant case involving freedom of speech was R. V. Keegstra (Canadian Supreme Court) which upheld sections of the criminal code prohibiting the unlawful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group as constitutional under the freedom of expression provision in section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    The issue here is did Boissoi violate the Alberta Humand Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act. I think the relevant section is:

    3(1) No person shall publish, issue or display or cause to be published, issued or displayed before the public any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that

    (a) indicates discrimination or an intention to discriminate against a person or a class of persons, or

    (b) is likely to expose a person or a class of persons to hatred or contempt

    because of the race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income or family status of that person or class of persons.

    (2) Nothing in this section shall be deemed to interfere with the free expression of opinion on any subject.

    Decide for yourself

  • George Bubble

    I’m against one possible interpretation of one possible result. I don’t see this as a simple issue of free speech / no free speech, because both extremes are intolerable in practice. In order to say whatever one wants, one has to be prepared to accept responsibility for the results of one’s words, especially if one is in a position of authority, or if one’s words are likely to harm someone in a particularly vulnerable position who is unable to adequately respond. Admittedly, this is a very bad case to test such an issue. It’s unlikely that many people take the guy’s words seriously. So I doubt the decision will have a deep or far-reaching effect on the underlying issue.

  • George Bubble

    And thanks, Speedsausage, it’s good to know the actual facts of the case. In light of the criteria listed there, which are actually much stricter than I had imagined, it seems like this Boissoin will probably lose.

    3(1)a is pretty obvious. Gays are certainly a class of persons, and if Boissoin’s statements do not contain an intention to discriminate (and to discriminate against those who do not discriminate), what does?

    Moreover, Boissoin’s statement would certainly bring contempt and hatred to gays within the religious community over which Boissoin evidently wields some authority. Presumably this would violate their religious rights.

    Also, his statement about same-sex families alone is enough to convict him.

    I fully expect he’ll be convicted. And I doubt it will have any noticeable impact on Canadian society. His guilt will hinge on his having issued the statement in his capacity as a person of authority, and for actively propagating the statement, which demonstrates his serious intention to violate the rights of other citizens. This won’t affect guys sitting around in bars. It won’t even affect pundits and commentators, who have no inherent authority. Nor will it affect people of authority who confine their hatred to unofficial pronouncements.

    Just my prediction, but whatever.

  • nycstudman

    speedsausage: you’ve done your research obviously. But I still say, looking at the law as you lay it out that, at least in terms of our 1st Amendment, it’s way too broad. #3b could theoretically apply to everything from Disney’s The Little Mermaid to Will & Grace. We’d be left with everyting at the level of Barney & Sesame St. All art and speech involves hatred on some level.

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