Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Anti-gay letter is free speech, lawyer argues

A Calgary judge heard Wednesday that a letter to the editor that called homosexuals immoral is free speech, not a violation of human rights.

In 2002, Reverend Stephen Boissoin sent a letter to the Red Deer Advocate which claimed that "homosexual rights activists and those who defend them are just as immoral as pedophiles, drug dealers, and pimps who plague our communities."

The letter continued to criticize school programs that promote positive images of the gay community, calling them "wicked."

A high school teacher in Red Deer, Darren Lund, filed a complaint and after several years, the Alberta Human Rights Commission ruled the letter violated the province's human rights code. The Commission ordered Boissoin pay $5,000 and apologize to Lund, now a professor at the University of Calgary.

Boissoin decided to appeal the case. The Alberta government stepped out of bounds with its human rights legislation by slapping restrictions on free speech, said Boissoin's lawyer, Gerry Chipeur.

"Nobody should have the power to use the tools that are available to the state, to use the police powers of the state, to prosecute someone else who they disagree with," said Chipeur.

But Boissoin's letter to the editor was hate speech, not free speech, said Lund.

"There are also a number of fair-minded Albertans who believe that hate speech is hate speech and it doesn't have a place in Canada, where we actually aren't like that," said Lund. "We don't want to live in communities like that," he said.

Since making the complaint in 2002, there has been hate mail and even death threats against him, said Lund.

"If you don't stand up to bullies, if you don't name hatred when you see it and speak out against it, even if it's a group you're not a member of, it seems to me what's the alternative?" said Lund.

The appeal in the Court of Queen's Bench in Calgary will continue Thursday.

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