EDMONTON (CP) – Church leaders, politicians and an American religious rights group are rallying behind a pastor who is to appear before an Alberta human rights tribunal accused of exposing gays to hatred.
In a letter published in the Red Deer Advocate in June 2002, Stephen Boissoin wrote that homosexual rights activists and those who defend them are as immoral as pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps.
After considering the case for three years, the human rights commission will finally hear a complaint filed against Boissoin by Darren Lund, a University of Calgary professor. Lund contends the letter contravenes Alberta’s human rights law.
The major players involved say the public tribunal set for Calgary in December will be a battle over gay rights, freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
“This case will be precedent setting for Albertans, and if forced to go before the Supreme Court of Canada, for Canadians at large,” says a web site operated by Concerned Christians Canada Ltd.
The group, which Boissoin used to head, has accused the commission of attacking Boissoin and of being anti-Christian. It calls itself the fastest growing Christian political action committee in Canada.
“This is not just a battle against free speech by the militant and well-funded homosexual radicals, but this is even more importantly an attack on clergy and religious organizations.”
To help Boissoin, supporters plan to hold a fundraiser in Calgary at the end of the month featuring such speakers as Calgary Catholic Bishop Fred Henry and Ron Gray, leader of the Christian Heritage Party. Henry has been an outspoken critic of Canada’s same-sex marriage law.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a U.S. religious rights group, has also pledged its support. The organization was involved in legal battles that allowed voters in 13 states to endorse amendments against same-sex marriage.
Boissoin, 38, who now runs a youth outreach program in Calgary, said he stands by his letter, in which he accuses the public school system of subjecting children to psychologically damaging pro-homosexual literature to foster equal rights.
He said his beef isn’t with individual gays, but with what he calls the “homosexual machine.”
“My banner has now been raised and war has been declared so as to defend the precious sanctity of our innocent children and youth, that you so eagerly toil, day and night, to consume.”
It is his democratic right in a free society to make such comments, Boissoin said in an interview. It is also his duty as a Christian to speak out.
“What I wrote in my letter to the editor is not false, that is my religious belief,” he said.
“I believe the Charter of Rights protects my religious beliefs and I believe that it protects my right to freedom of speech.”
Lund, 44, who used to teach high school in Red Deer where he won a human rights award for forming a student anti-prejudice group, is just as adamant that such comments are discriminatory.
He said the case will test the limits of free speech.
“We all support the general idea of freedom of expression, but when certain statements promote hate against an identifiable group, then that freedom has been abused,” Lund said.
“I want an apology on behalf of the letter writer that this letter in fact did go over that line.” Pushing the complaint has made him a target of abuse, Lund said. People tried to get him fired from his job and he was forced to defend himself from an unsuccessful defamation lawsuit filed by Boissoin.
Lund also has supporters.
Ron Ghitter, a former Senator and member of the Alberta legislature, has helped raise money for Lund’s legal bills. So have members of Calgary’s legal community.
Ghitter once led an Alberta government tolerance commission that toured the province following Jim Keegstra’s 1983 conviction for promoting hatred against Jews. Keegstra, a teacher, was fired for telling his students about a world-wide Jewish conspiracy.
Ghitter feels Boissoin’s letter clearly crossed the line of free speech.
“When you take an identifiable group and say that about them, that is not only inappropriate and wrongheaded, it is also a criminal offence, if someone wanted to deal with it,” he said.
“It is never freedom of religion and freedom of speech when you use your religion as a guise to demean other people.”
Ghitter is also critical of the human rights commission, but for completely different reasons.
Alberta would be better served if the human rights commission had more power and money to advocate tolerance, instead of simply responding to complaints, he said.
Marie Riddle, the head of the commission, said the agency won’t be swayed by any group.
She acknowledged that it will be a challenge to balance the issues of discrimination, freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
“We are straight down the middle. We are not going to be influenced by things that people say that are negative about us,” she said.
“The fact that something is tough, sometimes emotional, sometimes angry, doesn’t mean that we don’t have to do our job.”
If the complaint is upheld, Boissoin could be required to apologize and/or pay compensation. The tribunal’s decision will then be open to appeal through the court system.
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