Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Freedom of Religion Assaulted:
Who Would Have Thought

 November 10, 2008

 

It is difficult to imagine a guaranteed right more important to a democratic society than freedom of expression…. The concept of free and uninhibited speech permeates all truly democratic societies and institutions. (Supreme Court of Canada, Edmonton Journal v. Alberta, 1989) 

If the courts uphold what the AHRCC did to Rev. Boissoin, religious liberty will be mortally wounded in Canada. (Raymond J. de Souza, “When did the Bible Become Hate Speech?”  National Post, June 12, 2008) 

The case of former pastor, Stephen Boissoin, before the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission (AHRCC) deserves the undivided attention of every Canadian citizen who thinks that freedom of speech and religion is fundamental to a truly free society.  

That certainly used to be taken for granted, as stated in the Canadian Bill of Rights and the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which in section 2(b) states that everyone enjoys “freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of expression.” 

Big Brother is Watching

That is plain enough, but due to a sea change in ideas among the shapers of public opinion, these words no longer mean what they used to mean. To make a long story short, the common law idea of the limited state and a free society has made way for the interventionist state. This radical transformation means that the state is now deeply involved in all areas of society, a process directed by an ever-growing army of state-appointed overseers and enforcers.  

This is how Stephen Boissoin ended up before the Alberta Human Rights Commission after publishing a letter in the Red Deer Advocate back in June of 2002. His letter under the heading” “Homosexual Agenda Wicked” was blunt and lacked all niceness and nuance. It included statements as follows: 

Our children are being victimized by repugnant and premeditated strategies, aimed at desensitizing and eventually recruiting our young into their camps. Think about it, children as young as five and six years of age are being subjected to psychologically and physiologically damaging pro-homosexual literature and guidance in the public school system: all under the fraudulent guise of equal rights. 

The following month, Dr. Darren E. Lund, a professor at the University of Calgary, filed a complaint at the Alberta Human Rights Commission alleging that the Boissoin letter amounted to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation contrary to section 3 of the Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act. 

This section among other things, forbids the publishing of anything that discriminates against a person or a class of persons, or that is “likely to expose a person or a class of persons to hatred or contempt because of race, religious beliefs, color, gender,” etc.  

Section 3(2) also states: “Nothing in this Section shall be deemed to interfere with the free expression of opinion on any subject.” 

Initially, the complaint was dismissed on a technicality, but in May 2005, the complaint was allowed to proceed to the panel hearing stage. Subsequent hearings led to a decision by panel chair Lori G. Andreachuk, published on November 30, 2007. 

The Red Deer Advocate was not a party to this case because it had, as a result of a previous human rights complaint, meekly bowed out of this fight by changing its publication policy to follow the letter of the law. The Concerned Christian Coalition Inc. did the same thing and issued an apology for having published Boissoin’s letter. 

Lund requested that Boissoin be ordered to pay him $5000 as compensation, a further $5000 to the Diversity, Equity and Human Rights Committee of the Alberta Teachers’ Association; that he be ordered to publish a full apology in the Red Deer Advocate for his letter, which must include the statement that he understands that what he wrote was “inappropriate and likely to expose persons or groups of persons to hatred or contempt.” If Boissoin fails to comply with the order, Lund requested that the panel forbid Boissoin to publish his views on homosexuality in the major print media in Alberta.

Lund argued that Boissoin’s letter was an abuse of free speech, that its language was militaristic and extremist, demonized and dehumanized individual homosexuals, was factually wrong, incited hatred and contempt, and  perhaps even violence against an identifiable group.” 

A Surprise Intervener

Douglas R. Jones, employed with the United Way who previously had served in the Diversity Resources Unit of the Calgary City Police, provided testimony in support of Lund’s complaint. He stated that his experience had led him to believe “that gays are routinely targeted for hate and discrimination in Alberta.” His concern with Boissoin’s letter was that it encouraged violence against homosexuals. 

 Dr. Kevin Alderson, a licensed psychologist, was the expert witness who agreed that the Boissoin letter is a form of hate speech that is likely to expose gay persons to more hatred and contempt. He reported that sexual minorities are among the most frequently targeted victims of hate-motivated violence in Canada. 

If you thought that the Conservative Alberta government would come down on the side of freedom of speech, you would be in for a rude surprise. The Attorney General intervened via legal counsel to argue, first, issues of jurisdiction, and then the merit of the complaint itself. 

The Attorney General is of the opinion that the Boissoin letter cannot be defended on the basis that it is a political expression, but whether or not it is discriminatory. He takes the position that it is discriminatory if it is likely to cause others to engage in prohibited practices. Yet, “no link to actual discriminatory acts need be established in this regard.” (emphasis added)  

The Attorney General submits that the testimony presented to this panel by Douglas Jones and Kevin Alderson has established that Boissoin’s letter has the effect of enhancing discrimination against homosexuals, adds to the perception of gay people as being inherently evil, and condones the mistreatment of gay people. He states that the Alberta Human Rights Act  does not endorse the right of religious groups to engage in discriminatory expression." 

No Hurt Feelings Protection

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association intervened with a strong defence of freedom of expression. Though it “vehemently” disagrees with Boissoin’s views, it is equally vehement that he has the right to express his opinions without fear of legal reprisal. The Association takes this position because it defends  the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, of conscience and of religion.”  

The CCLA told the panel that though letters to the editors may be “reprehensible or unpalatable,” they perform a vital function of stimulating debate and the exchange of ideas. It found that the lively public debate in Red Deer sparked by Boissoin’s letter is "a sign of a healthy and functioning democracy.”  

The CCLA warned that suppressing such speech would have a major chilling effect on public debate for participants may fear to ”misspeak or be punished for expressing an unpopular opinion.” It reminded the panel that human rights legislation is not intended “to remedy or protect against hurt feelings.” 

Barry Cooper, political science professor, also presented a strong defence of freedom of expression and warned against the state’s stifling of open and vigorous debate. He is convinced that the right to free speech is the right to debate not to ensure agreement. He thinks that Lund wants to silence Boissoin by accusing him of inciting hatred rather than engaging in further debate. 

The Verdict

The chair of the panel, Lori G. Andreachuk, sided with the complainant and the expert witnesses Kevin Alderson and Douglas R. Jones, and others who spoke in support of the complainant. With that she accepted as proven what are in fact highly debatable controversies.  

Indeed, there are respectable, even compelling contrary positions about this matter, backed by careful analysis and by the testimony of homosexuals themselves. There is a wealth of such material readily available, especially with respect to questions of physical, emotional and mental health issues. To mention just one outstanding source: Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, by Jeffrey Satinover, who has practiced psychoanalysis and psychiatry and taught at Yale and Harvard (Baker Books, 1996).  

Further, no less problematic is Andreachuk’s ignoring the long and torturous history of common law that sets a hedge around that which is, or should be, outside the direct control of the state. Of course, the state needs to protect us against language that is libelous, treasonous and advocating criminal acts. That’s a different subject. 

The panel chair carelessly dismissed the arguments of Barry Cooper, and even of the CCLA, which although it “vehemently” disagreed with Boissoin’s opinions, nevertheless strongly upheld his right to express them. Such a position from an organization that specializes in these matters should carry a lot of weight. But it does not, because Andreachuk is driven by a different ideology. 

She declares it nonsensical to enact human rights legislation only to have that overridden by the freedom of speech defence. Accordingly, she ruled that Boissoin was not engaged in political speech but in moral criticism of homosexuality.   

To bolster this position, she makes much of the fact that this letter was written while there was no ongoing public debate about this topic in Red Deer. Presumably, her decision might have been different if the letter had been written during such ongoing public debate in that community. On such flimsy, contrived grounds Boisson’s letter was declared to be in violation of the law. 

But it gets worse, which is evident in the remedies she subsequently prescribed. She writes that the intent is not to punish Boissoin but that “ remedies should have symbolic and educational value“ and should serve “to ameliorate the effects of discrimination insofar as is possible and to denunciate the actions which were the subject of the complaint….” 

Though there is no direct victim who has demanded redress, the complainant, Darren Lund, “has suffered ridicule and harassment as a result of his complaint,” Boissoin is ordered to pay him $5000.  He is also ordered to pay Janell Dodd for expenses in connection with her testimony, up to a maximum of $2000. 

Further, Boissoin is ordered to cease publishing in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the Internet, in future, disparaging remarks about homosexuals or about Lund and his witnesses. And all disparaging remarks about homosexuals must be removed from Boissoin’s current websites and publications. He is also restrained from ever committing similar contraventions of the Act. 

He must provide Lund with a written apology for his letter, and request the Red Deer Advocate to publish this apology as well as the text of the panel chair’s  Decision on Remedy.” 

Conclusion

No one should think that this case is of no concern to the rest of us.You may disagree with the style or substance of Boissoin’s letter. But there should be no confusion about what is really at stake here.  This is a brazen attempt to fundamentally alter the nature and purpose of law in a direction where those with a narrow agenda want to muzzle those who disagree, especially Christians. 

The real issue here is whether Canada will remain a free, democratic and a law-based country, or one where only one, radically secular ideology, will dictate behaviour. Think of it. Here is someone who assumes the authority to order a newspaper what to print and what not to print. This official also compels a free citizen to apologize publicly for his opinions and forbids him ever to say anything critical (“disparaging”) about the person who brought the complaint and about all homosexuals.  

No self-respecting person is able to comply with such orders, and Boissoin has stated he will not do so. This might put him in a position where he is held in contempt of court, which is a serious, punishable offence.  So it could be that in this supposedly freest province of Canada, its own government supports this kind of tyranny, and one of its citizens might find himself in jail for the crime of speaking his mind. 

In the meantime, Boissoin has appealed this human rights decision to the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta.  Every freedom-respecting citizen should be prepared to support, morally and financially, this appeal.