12/3/2009 6:54:00 PM
UPDATE: You can listen to our interview with Stephen Boissoin and John Carpay via our podcast page
The case of Rev. Stephen Boissoin
has been one of the flashpoints in the debate here in Alberta regarding freedom of speech and the role of human rights commission.
In 2008, an Alberta Human Rights Panel ordered Reverend Stephen Boissoin to pay $5,000 to University of Calgary professor Darren Lund in respect of a letter Reverend Boissoin wrote in 2002, published in the Red Deer Advocate. In his letter to the editor, Reverend Boissoin expressed his opposition to homosexuality being portrayed positively in the public school curriculum, and commented on other public policy matters. Professor Lund complained to the Alberta Human Rights Commission that the letter violated section 3(1)(b) of Alberta’s human rights legislation, which bans expression that “is likely to expose a person or a class of persons to hatred or contempt” because of race, religious beliefs, colour, and other grounds.
We've covered the case many times including here
(where you can read the infamous letter), here
, and here
Boissoin appealed the panel's ruling to a real court, i.e. the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench.
Today, we got a ruling from the court, and it's a mixed bag
Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice E.C. Wilson set aside the Panel’s order against Reverend Boissoin, ruling that Reverend Boissoin did not violate section 3(1)(b) of the legislation. Accordingly, the Order against Reverend Boissoin, that he pay $5,000 to Professor Lund and that he refrain from making “disparaging remarks” about homosexuals, is no longer in force.
“I am pleased that the Human Rights Panel Order against Reverend Boissoin has been overturned,” stated John Carpay, lawyer and Executive Director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation.
“Unfortunately, the law that was used against Reverend Boissoin to subject him to expensive and stressful legal proceedings for more than seven years, is still on the books,” added Carpay.
“In spite of today’s court ruling, Albertans need to continue to exercise extreme caution when speaking about public policy issues, lest they offend someone who then files a human rights complaint. No citizen is safe from being subjected to a taxpayer-funded prosecution for having spoken or written something that a fellow citizen finds offensive,” continued Carpay
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Earl Wilson said Rev. Stephen Boissoin’s letter may have been “bewildering, puerile, nonsensical and insulting,” but it wasn’t unlawful.
“The language does not go so far as to fall within the prohibited status of ‘hate’ or ‘contempt,’” Wilson said, in a written decision.
The judge said there was nothing in the letter to suggest it was exhorting Albertans to discriminate against homosexuals in areas of employment, tenancy, or goods and services which fall under provincial jurisdiction.
“The letter’s target audience are people that (Boissoin) believes are apathetic to the inroads made by the ‘homosexual machine,’” Wilson said.
“Inferring some sort of call for discriminatory practices prohibited by provincial law is an unreasonable interpretation of the letter’s message.”
Very encouraging that Boissoin's odious conviction and punishment were overturned, but disappointing that Section 3 remains in force. The judge seems to have an appreciation for the fundamental issues here, but chose not to overturn Section 3 itself.
Of course, the blame for the section's continued existence lies largely with the Stelmach government which cowardly backed away from eliminating or reforming Section 3 in their farcical Bill 44.
There's nothing stopping the government from now doing the right thing and scrapping Section 3. I won't be holding my breath, however.
UPDATE: Full ruling below (via BCF