An anti-gay letter published in a Red Deer newspaper does not violate Alberta’s human rights code, the province’s Court of Queen’s Bench ruled yesterday.
In 2002, the Red Deer Advocate published a letter by former pastor Stephen Boissoin, titled “Homosexual Agenda Wicked.” It’s a nonsensical rant against gay rights — read it here in full.
In response, a well-meaning University of Calgary professor, Darren Lund, filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission (AHRC). In 2007, the AHRC ruled that Boissoin’s letter would expose gays to hatred and ordered Boissoin to pay $5,000 in damages. The AHRC also ordered Boissoin desist making “disparaging remarks” about gays.
Yesterday’s court decision overturned the AHRC’s 2007 ruling.
"That the language [of Boissoin’s letter] may be jarring, offensive, bewildering, puerile, nonsensical and insulting may be of little doubt,” wrote Justice Earl Wilson in yesterday’s ruling. “But the language does not go so far as to fall within the prohibited status of ‘hate’ or ‘contempt.’ “
Justice Wilson also took aim at the AHRC’s suggestion that Boissoin’s
letter would incite hatred against gays. In 2007, the AHRC cited
the “militaristic tone” of Boissoin’s letter, in which he states, “My
banner has been raised and war has been declared.” The AHRC also suggested there was a link between the letter’s publication and an attack on an Alberta gay teen two weeks later.
reading of the letter reveals that the author’s language choice was for
metaphorical purposes,” wrote Justice Wilson. “With respect, no one could
reasonably read the letter as an actual call to arms.’ “
Civil libertarians hail yesterday’s ruling as a victory for free speech.
Gays also stand to benefit from yesterday’s court decision. As we continue to face censorship — whether it be at the Canadian border or on major TV networks
— it’s in our interest to promote free speech and expression.
Censoring homophobes is an easy way to shut them up, but it does little
to address the outrageousness of their arguments. Speech should be fought with speech.
In 2005, queer lobby group Egale argued that open debate, rather than censorship, is the best way to address homophobia. “We believe that sunshine is the best disinfectant,” said then-Egale executive director Gilles Marchildon.
Xtra’s publisher Pink Triangle Press also opposed Lund’s case in editorials. From a 2007 opinion piece by columnist Brenda Cossman:
views are appalling but censoring them isn’t the answer. Holding them
up to the light of day is admittedly more time consuming, but in the
long run, much more effective. And who said that democracy wasn’t
supposed to be exhausting.”
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