The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board ruled on July 9 that Trenton town council was right to refuse a religious group permission to build dormitories downtown which would be used for programs that might discriminate against gay men.
Daybreak Prison Ministry was in the process of repairing a donated building for use by Canaan Land Ministry Canada as a “long-term, one-year male residency program for those struggling with life controlling issues.”
While the ministry was doing the repair work, the town changed its land-use bylaw in 2013 to exclude dormitories in the area.
According to a report in the New Glasgow News, the bylaw change followed a public outcry, first over the possibility of a halfway house near residences, then over anti-gay statements allegedly made by the program’s intended director, Joshua Gober.
Part of Canaan’s healing program is based on Bible studies. According to its website, Canaan was founded in 1981 by Mac Gober, “a former motorcycle hoodlum,” who has “helped hundreds of men turn lost and broken lives into productive and fruitful lives.” It describes Canaan Land as “a non-profit, non-denominational, Christian home” for men aged 18 and up who are generally “battling substance abuse, alcohol or some other form of harmful addiction.”
In a letter to city council noted in the board ruling, LGBT activist Gerald Veldhoven said Joshua Gober gave a hateful, homophobic and discriminatory speech to a town meeting in November 2013.
“Mr Gober has made it quite clear that gay men will not be welcome in this potential establishment,” Veldhoven wrote.
“This is of great concern in that it is blatant discrimination against a section of our society that has attained equal rights in Canada and indeed deserves respect, as well as equal treatment as Canadian citizens,” he continued.
According to town council public hearing minutes, Gober said Canaan does not hate homosexuals but does not work with homosexuals, pedophiles or sex offenders.
Canaan does not specialize in the care homosexuals “may need to possibly get out of that lifestyle,” he said.
Daybreak challenged the bylaw change, arguing, among other things, that it should be allowed to use the dormitories because it is a private religious facility and is allowed to discriminate.
Daybreak relied on a January 2015 Nova Scotia Supreme Court decision which found the Nova Scotia law society could not reject Trinity Western University graduates just because the society was offended by the Christian school’s community covenant.
The covenant requires Trinity Western students to abstain from sex outside traditional (heterosexual) marriage.
Daybreak was represented at the hearing by lawyer and former Liberal MP Roseanne Skoke, who achieved some notoriety in the late 1990s when she called homosexuality “immoral” and unnatural.
Trenton lawyers argued the town was bound by provincial law, specifically the Human Rights Act, which forbids discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
In the end the Nova Scotia review board upheld Trenton town council’s right to reject the dormitories not on discrimination grounds but on zoning grounds.
The review board said town council is allowed to set its planning strategy and found the bylaw change consistent with that strategy.
Trenton is located in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, about two hours drive north of Halifax.