Toronto
2 min

One lurch forward, two slumps back

Say you’re launching a human rights complaint against a Christian preacher in a small prairie town over a letter he wrote in a local newspaper in which he compared gays to paedophiles and murderers and called for a war against queers. Say that same letter may have indirectly led to reported gaybashings in that same town only two weeks later.

Who would you expect to back you before the human rights commission, the national gay and lesbian rights lobby group or the Alberta government? Before you answer, consider that only two years ago the Alberta government, under then-premier Ralph Klein, was courting preachers just like the man you’re complaining against by threatening to invoke the notwithstanding clause to bar gay marriage in the province.

Pencils down.

Who did you go with, the steers or the queers?

If you picked the queers, you’re wrong.

On Jul 17 the Alberta Human Rights Commission (AHRC) began hearing a complaint from University Of Calgary assistant professor Darren Lund against Red Deer pastor Stephen Boissoin over a letter Boissoin wrote to the Red Deer Advocate in 2002 urging citizens to oppose programs in schools that teach students that homosexuality is okay.

Boissoin’s letter reads that gay activists are “perverse, self-centred and morally deprived individuals who are spreading their psychological disease into every area of our lives,” and “are just as immoral as the paedophiles, drug dealers and pimps.”

Boissoin made no bones about his goals and tactics in the letter: “My banner has now been raised and war has been declared.”

Lund, a straight man who nevertheless has been a vocal advocate of queer rights in — let’s face it — a not-so-queer-friendly province, has been fighting a lonely battle for years to get the AHRC to rule that hate literature of this type is not acceptable.

And where is Egale Canada in all of this? They’ve decided to sit this one out, instead supporting the preacher’s right to free speech over the rights of queers to be protected from open calls in the media for violence against them.

“Egale supports professor Lund in working to make schools safe for all children but respectfully opposes his human rights complaint,” reads an Egale press release from 2005. “It is about a political issue, in that it expresses opposition to making schools safe for LGBT [Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans] children and children of LGBT parents.”

Egale executive director Helen Kennedy, who took over the post three months ago, says Egale’s position was decided by the previous board. She says that if she had her way, Egale would have intervened on Lund’s behalf.

In a further ironic twist, the Alberta government is intervening on behalf of the province’s queers. It’s quite a step for a province known as the home of social conservatism in Canada. Perhaps being the home of Brokeback Mountain has broadened the government’s horizons. But whatever the outcome of the case, it seems to be a cautious lurch forward for gays in cowboy country.