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RE/MAX fires agent over family-values brochure

Andrew Ciastek had distributed pamphlets championing the 'traditional family'

Re-max logo Credit: Re-max
A real-estate agent who distributed controversial anti-gay flyers in the Lorne Park area was terminated May 2, according to the company’s head office.

 
Andrew Ciastek was terminated for “poor judgment on his personal marketing,” according to Christine Martysiewicz, director of internal and public relations for RE/MAX Ontario-Atlantic Canada.
 
“We assure the general public that his actions in no way reflect RE/MAX or our associates. We’re offended by the insensitivity shown here just as much as the community is. We take pride in the diversity of our workforce and our clients,” Martysiewicz says.
 
The flyer’s headline reads, “Traditional family is the best for the future of the kids.” It is based on research that suggests that gay parents are more likely to be unemployed than their straight counterparts. The author of the study, Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus, has since backtracked on key claims made in the study, and gay activists and other academics have roundly criticized it as politically calculated.
 
Ciastek was not immediately available for comment. In an interview before the termination was announced, he told the Toronto Star he realized people are “hurt” by the flyer and promised to apologize.
 
RE/MAX will be making a donation to Peel Pride, Martysiewicz says, but she declined to disclose the amount.
 
Retired teacher John McDonald recieved the flier on April 30. He called Ciastek, Ciastek’s boss, the Human Rights Tribunal and, eventually, the press. He says that the head of RE/MAX for Eastern and Atlantic Canada called him personally to apologize. He’s happy with the result of his week of activism.
 
“It’s good to know that one person can make a difference,” he said. “Don’t be the kind of person who says, ‘Oh someone else will do anything.’”
 
It’s a philosophy he’s always lived by —  and a value he tried to instill in his students, he says. McDonald says that he’s always been active in political causes, dating back to protests over the Vietnam War.
 
McDonald says that, after recieving legal advice, he decided not to file a human rights complaint.

In February, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that human rights tribunals must not punish leafleters for distributing anti-gay material that is “merely offensive or hurtful.” Rather, it must rise to the level of “exposing vulnerable groups to detestation and vilification” to be caught by provincial or federal human rights legislation.

 
But the decision was a mixed bag with no clear winners, says Faisal Bhabha, a professor of law at Osgoode Hall. And that means that future litigation, including the complaint against Ciastek, if it proceeds, will help more firmly define the contours of the law.
 
One salient feature is whether the flyers have a religious motivation.
 
“It depends on the person doing the speech,” says Bhabha. “If he were simply a hater, a homophobe, with no religious claim, it would be a more clear cut case.”
 
Tribunals look for the impact of the speech on the community in evaluating complaints. However, a leaflet isn’t illegal just because it’s offensive to someone.
 
“In a free society, you have to leave room for people to be offended. There is no right to not be offended,” Bhabha says. And that means that a complainant in a case like this would likely face “an uphill battle.”
 
Provincial protections from hate speech have often been a controversial subject among gays and lesbians. While hate speech provisions protect gays from speech targeting them, the rhetoric of hate speech has been applied to muzzle gay protests and art.
 
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained misinformation about whether McDonald had filed a human rights complaint. After recieving legal advice, he decided not to proceed.