A Court of Queen’s Bench judge has ruled an anti-gay letter written by a former Alberta pastor in 2002 was not a hate crime and is allowed under freedom of speech.
Justice E.C. Wilson overturned a 2008 ruling by the Alberta Human Rights Commission that the letter by Stephen Boissoin that was published in the Red Deer Advocate broke provincial law.
At the time, the commission said it may even have played a role in the beating of a gay teenager two weeks after it was published.
The commission had ordered Boissoin to refrain from making disparaging remarks about homosexuals and to pay the complainant, former Red Deer high school teacher Darren Lund, $5,000 in damages.
Neither order can now be enforced, as Wilson declared them “unlawful or unconstitutional.”
The letter carried the headline “Homosexual agenda wicked” and suggested gays were as immoral as pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps.
Boissoin had argued he was simply commenting on government policy by criticizing homosexuality being portrayed positively in the public school curriculum.
On Thursday, Boissoin said he was thrilled with the judge’s ruling, calling it a victory for “freedom of speech and religious expression in Canada.”
At the time he wrote the letter, Boissoin was a pastor with the Concerned Christian Coalition.
He now works in the housing industry.
Lund, who is now a professor at the University of Calgary, said he was disappointed.
“I really think this is a step backwards for our province,” he said in an email to The Canadian Press.
“In my view, the judge’s ruling sets such strict standards for hate speech that this section is rendered all but unenforceable.
“I’m hopeful that Albertans hope to keep our communities inclusive and respectful for all people, but this ruling certainly offers no assistance in this regard. If the language contained in the letter does not meet the threshold of hateful, I am not certain what possibly would.”
The Canadian Constitution Foundation, a free-speech advocacy group, issued a news release saying it was pleased with Thursday’s ruling.
“Unfortunately, the law that was used against Reverend Boissoin to subject him to a expensive and stressful legal proceedings for more than seven years is still on the books,” said executive director John Carpay.
That law, the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act, says no one shall publish a statement that is likely “to expose a person or a class of persons to hatred or contempt” because of their sexual orientation.
“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,” said Carpay.
“No citizen is safe from being subjected to a taxpayer-funded prosecution for having spoken or written something that a fellow citizen finds offensive.”