Free speech trumps ‘hate speech’ in ADF-backed Canadian legal victory
CALGARY, Alberta — A Canadian court issued a strong ruling Friday upholding the free speech of a pastor punished by the Alberta Human Rights Commission for letters-to-the-editor published in a newspaper regarding his Christian views about homosexual behavior. An Alliance Defense Fund allied attorney represented the pastor.
“Christians and other people of faith should not be fined or jailed for expressing their political or religious beliefs. There is no place for thought control in a free and democratic society,” said ADF-allied attorney Gerald Chipeur, who argued before the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta in September on behalf of Pastor Stephen Boissoin. “The tools of censorship should not be available to prohibit freedom of expression in Canada. There is no circumstance in a free society where limitations on political or religious debate can be justified.”
While the court’s decision did not strike down Alberta’s “hate speech” laws, it significantly limited how they can be used. The court found that using ‘hate speech’ laws to silence religious expression or public debate simply because a person takes offense violates the free speech guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Human Rights. The court also determined that an accuser must demonstrate that the speech contributed to actual harm.
“The court found that Stephen Boissoin’s letter to the editor did not amount to ‘hate speech’ and did not cause discriminatory behavior. Going forward, it will be extremely difficult for religious or political debate to be found in breach of Alberta’s current human rights laws,” Chipeur said.
“In my view the Panel erred in its finding that the impugned letter was hateful and contemptuous of homosexuals...,” wrote Justice Earl C. Wilson in the court’s ruling. “Had the Panel been alive to all [the] evidence, she could not have come to the conclusions that she did. Her erroneous conclusions stripped the Appellant of any credible, contextual basis to claim the letter manifested political or religious expression. The proper context of his remarks is fundamental to the balancing process required.... In the result I am satisfied that the individual and cumulative errors committed by the Panel permit of little deference to her various findings of fact and/or application of the law to those facts. Her errors of law led her to incorrect conclusions. The panel’s decision cannot stand.”
A University of Calgary professor, Dr. Darren Lund, reported Pastor Stephen Boissoin to the Alberta Human Rights Commission in 2002 for published letters to the editor Boissoin wrote on homosexual behavior. Lund accused Boissoin of violating a Canadian human rights law with regard to “sexual orientation” after the letters from Boissoin appeared in the Red Deer Advocate that year.
The commission ruled against Boissoin in May 2008, ordering him to cease any further public expression of his views on homosexual behavior. The commission also ordered Boissoin to pay Lund $5,000 and provide him with a written apology even though he was not the subject of any of Boissoin’s writings and Boissoin didn’t even know who he was prior to the complaint Lund filed with the commission. Friday’s decision in Boissoin v. Lund reverses the commission’s order.
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.