CALGARY — Darren Lund was shocked when he first read a letter five years ago in an Alberta newspaper written by a local pastor who urged people to “take whatever steps are necessary to reverse the wickedness” of the “homosexual machine.”
Two weeks later, the former Red Deer high-school teacher and now university professor was devastated to hear the news: A 17-year-old local gay youth was followed home and asked, “You’re a faggot, right?” before allegedly being beaten by another young man.
Nobody was ever charged in the case, but Prof. Lund, who teaches education at the University of Calgary, was convinced letters like the pastor’s could cause harm. He filed a complaint against the pastor with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission, which yesterday began hearing evidence.
“I do stand on the principle that I think the letter did expose people to hatred and I think the government, if it’s serious about its human-rights legislation, needs to make a ruling in this case and I think it’s very clear what they need to do,” Prof. Lund told reporters outside the hearing room.
Rev. Stephen Boissoin wrote the controversial letter, which was published on June 17, 2002, in the Red Deer Advocate under the headline, “Homosexual Agenda Wicked.”
The letter reached out to youth struggling with their sexual identity by suggesting “enslavement to homosexuality can be remedied.” It also blamed the “militant homosexual agenda” for corrupting youngsters and recruiting them to the gay lifestyle.
“From kindergarten class on, our children, your grandchildren are being strategically targeted, psychologically abused and brainwashed by homosexual and pro-homosexual educators,” Mr. Boissoin wrote.
“Homosexual rights activists and those that defend them,” the letter continued, “are just as immoral as the pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps that plague our communities.”
Mr. Boissoin would not speak to reporters yesterday, but has previously said he stands by his letter as his democratic right to free speech. He is scheduled to testify today in what his lawyer, Gerald Chipeur, has called Alberta’s most significant constitutional case involving human-rights legislation.
The Alberta government is also monitoring the proceedings and has intervenor status in the case.
Janel Dodd, who worked with the pastor at Red Deer’s youth at-risk drop-in centre, testified yesterday on Prof. Lund’s behalf. When asked about Mr. Boissoin’s intent in writing the letter, she told the chairwoman of the hearing: “God called him to be active with his beliefs.”
Ms. Dodd also talked about her outrage after the alleged gay-bashing incident, which involved a youth who frequented the drop-in centre, who was not admonished by Mr. Boissoin, she says. “There was no repercussions for this and the youth was allowed to still come into the organization,” she told reporters later.
Mr. Boissoin has the support of Concerned Christians Canada and the U.S.-based Alliance Defense Fund, which backs legal causes involving freedom of religion.
Prof. Lund, who has won an Alberta human-rights award, is representing himself at the hearing with the help of a pair of volunteer law students. He says he has a lot of “moral support” in pursuing the case, but admits the process is a bit intimidating.
“… The Alliance Defense Fund features this case prominently on its website. They have millions of dollars that they send around the globe whenever they feel there are rights cases that may become precedent-setting.”
The hearing is scheduled to end Friday. The commission could order an apology or compensation. Its decision, which must be issued within 60 days of the hearing, could also be challenged through the courts.
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