CASE DUBBED ‘SIGNIFICANT’
More than five years after a controversial letter was published attacking gay activists as being “just as immoral as pedophiles,” a human rights panel will begin a hearing today that one lawyer calls Alberta’s most important human rights and free speech case to date.
The complaint launched against Rev. Stephen Boissoin by University of Calgary professor Darren Lund has led gay rights organizations, Christian lobby groups and even the Alberta government to weigh in — and not all of them in the corners most would expect.
Today will be the start of what’s likely to be three days of hearings that will pit Mr. Boissoin’s arguments of free speech against Mr. Lund’s argument that Mr. Boissoin’s letter promoted hatred against gays.
“It’s going to be a very significant case, probably the most significant constitutional case involving human rights legislation that has ever been considered in Alberta,” said Gerald Chipeur, Mr. Boissoin’s lawyer.
The controversy stems from a letter written by Mr. Boissoin, then a Red Deer youth pastor, that was published in The Red Deer Advocate in June 2002.
In it, Boissoin wrote “my banner has now been raised and war has been declared” against those who are part of the “homosexual machine.”
“From kindergarten class on, our children, your grandchildren are being strategically targeted, psychologically abused and brainwashed by homosexual and pro-homosexual educators,” he wrote.
“Your children are being warped into believing that same-sex families are acceptable; that kissing men is appropriate.”
Boissoin went on to attack gay activists as “spreading their psychological disease,” saying they were “just as immoral as the pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps that plague our communities.”
“Where homosexuality flourishes, all manner of wickedness abounds,” he wrote.
The letter led to a complaint from Mr. Lund, then a high school teacher in Red Deer.
Mr. Lund, a married father who is not homosexual, is a longtime human rights activist who has won The Alberta Centennial Medal and a national education award.
Now an education professor at the University of Calgary, he said he was glad the case will finally be heard, five years after the letter that sparked it was published.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I’m eager for the panel to make a ruling on this case.”
In between the letter’s publication and today’s hearing, Mr. Boissoin launched an unsuccessful $400,000 defamation suit against Mr. Lund.
Mr. Chipeur said the debate for today’s hearing comes down to free speech: if Mr. Boissoin is rapped for his letter, it could silence any political debate on the issue, he argued.
The letter doesn’t fall under the legal definition of discrimination, he added, largely because those laws weren’t meant to censor or restrict public debate.
The Alberta government has intervener status in the hearing and will be backing Mr. Lund.
A national gay rights group, meanwhile, has said it won’t be supporting him. EGALE (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) has said that Mr. Boissoin has a right to express his opinions in the public arena, though it notes it vehemently disagrees with them.
“It is far better that Boissoin expose his views than have them pushed underground,” the group said in a 2005 statement. “Under the glaring light of public scrutiny, his ideas will most likely wither and die.”
Mr. Boissoin has been getting support from Concerned Christians Canada Ltd., a Christian lobby group he used to head at a local level that is also named in the human rights complaint.
The group has tried to lead campaigns against Mr. Lund.
It also helped to organize a 2005 legal defence fundraiser for Mr. Boissoin and others that featured Calgary Catholic Bishop Fred Henry.
Fred Henry, along with members of The Christian Heritage Party, defended freedom of expression and of religion.
There have been other rallying cries to back Mr. Boissoin in the past five years, including from American religious rights groups and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
The one-person panel will be chaired by Lori Andreachuk, a lawyer from Lethbridge.
(See also former KKK grand dragon David Duke‘s website for more on this story here)
…this post forwarded by a Windsor Humanist (Neil.Hod.) after a July 16, 2007 article by Joel Kom in The Calgary Herald