2 min

A matter of sexual orientation

Bill seeks to protect gays and lesbians

Credit: Shawn Scallen

Gays and lesbians should soon have protection under Canada’s hate crimes legislation.

Svend Robinson’s Bill C-250 has passed its final reading in the House of Commons and is now before the Senate for approval into law. The bill will amend the section of the criminal code governing hate crime and incitement to genocide by adding sexual orientation to the identifiable groups protected under this law

The law currently describes identifiable groups as those defined by colour, race, religion or ethnic origin.

Will this law stop the taunting of gays and lesbians in schools and public places? Probably not, but it may give power to the police to stop organized groups, like the Fred Phelps or the neo-Nazis of the world, who spread hatred against queers. This does not seem to be a law to use to go after school kids or priests on the pulpit.

Nonetheless, the bill has caused quite a stir in the media and among church groups, particularly with the recent attention to same-sex marriage.

Many religious groups, particularly Christian groups, are concerned that this bill would attack their freedom to express their views that homosexuality is morally wrong and unhealthy. If you look at the letter of the law this does not seem to be the case. Robinson responds to the objections by church groups by pointing out subsection 319(3):

“No person shall be convicted of an offence… if, in good faith, the person expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text.”

But Sean Murphy, the director of the Catholic Civil Rights League, in correspondence with Robinson expressed his concern that “Bill C-250 will probably result in censorship by the media, on the grounds that opposition to homosexual conduct has become a hate crime. It will be used to silence ordinary people by threatening them with criminal prosecution, and it will be used to prosecute those who continue to speak out despite the threats.”

Local activist Ron Chaplin points out that in subsection 319(3) the defenses are there to prevent suppression. Chaplin emphasizes that this bill is not about political correctness. He believes that in the interpretation of the law criminal intent has to be proved, and that this cannot be done with simple insults and name-calling. So, hatred is about condemnation, calling for pain and suffering to be inflicted on the other, and calling for death and destruction.

Is it possible to suppress freedom of expression, to silence public debate and censor the universities with this new law? Robinson explicitly denies this, and maintains that the law has provisions to protect against such things. The intent of Bill C-250 seems to be to bring awareness of the prevalence of hate-based attacks against the gay and lesbian community and to provide some form of protection against calls to “hang all them fags.” Simply questioning the morality of gay sex or calling it unhealthy, or unnatural, does not seem to be the same as saying anyone who does such things is fair game for a baseball bat to the head.