Friday, February 01, 2008

Suppression of Religion

The Interim
February, 2008

For a striking illustration of the repression of freedom of religion and freedom of expression in Canada, consider the plight of Stephen Boissoin, an erstwhile Baptist minister in Alberta.
In a letter to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate published on June 17, 2002, Boissoin denounced the indoctrination of children in the public schools by proponents of the notion that homosexuality is a safe and legitimate alternative lifestyle. In response to Boissoin’s letter, Darren Lund, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Calgary, filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission, accusing Boissoin of exposing homosexuals to hatred and contempt in violation of section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act.
As evidence for the charge, Lund cited several passages from Boissoin’s bombastic letter, including the following: “From kindergarten class and on, our children, your grandchildren are being strategically targeted, psychologically abused and brainwashed by homosexual and pro-homosexual educators” with “repugnant and pre-mediated [sic] strategies, aimed at desensitizing and eventually recruiting our young children into their camps.”
The province’s chief human rights commissioner could have summarily rejected Lund’s complaint. Instead, in 2006, he referred the matter to a human rights panel.
Gerald Chipeur, one of Canada’s top constitutional lawyers, argued before this panel that by virtue of the guarantee of freedom of religion and freedom of expression in section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Boissoin has a constitutional right to publish the honestly held religious convictions on a matter of political debate expressed in his letter to the editor.
Barry Cooper, a distinguished professor of political science at the University of Calgary, likewise told the panel that “reasonable people can disagree about whether homosexual practices are immoral and they can further disagree about whether the Bible is authoritative … [I]f activists use taxpayer dollars to promote homosexuality in public schools, then Christians have a right to stand up and say they do not think it is okay.”
Counsel for the secular Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) repudiated Boissoin’s opinions on gay rights, while defending his constitutional right to express them. In addition, the CCLA argued that the provinces have no authority under the Constitution of Canada to censor the publication of political opinions in a newspaper.
In one of the most dismaying aspects of the Boissoin case, the Attorney General for Alberta flatly disagreed with the defence of freedom of religion and freedom of expression mounted by Cooper and the CCLA. In an intervention against Boissoin, the province’s top law officer insisted that under the Constitution of Canada and the laws of Alberta, the human rights panel had both the authority and the responsibility to censure Boissoin for expressing hatred and contempt for homosexuals in his letter to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate.
With the Attorney General of the most conservative province in the country intervening against Boissoin, the outcome was virtually a foregone conclusion. In a ruling on 27 November 2007, the Panel Chair, Lori G. Andreachuk, QC, a family-law lawyer from Lethbridge, duly found that Boissoin had violated the ban on expressing hatred or contempt for a protected group in section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act.
In support of her finding, Andreachuk argued: “Not taking jurisdiction would mean that inciting hatred would be acceptable up to the point that a crime occurs as a result of it. This cannot be the case, given the context of this being rural Alberta that is a matter of a local nature.” On the basis of such obtuse reasoning are the historic rights and freedoms of Canadians suppressed.
Meanwhile, under pressure from the Canadian Human Rights Commission, a Calgary man, Craig Chandler, has apologized for having posted Boissoin’s letter to the editor on the website of Concerned Christians Canada, and has promised never to do so again.
What, though, is the point of such censorship? Most of Boissoin’s letter can be read in Andreachuk’s ruling. And the full text remains freely available on websites in the United States, where the courts still uphold the inalienable rights of all peoples to freedom of religion and freedom of the press.

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