Canada’s human-rights tribunals are best known for penalizing critics of Muslim fundamentalists, but they spend much more time clamping down on those who express a Christian or Biblical view of homosexuality.
In 2002, the Rev. Stephen Bossoin, a Canadian pastor and youth worker, ran afoul of one of these kangaroo courts. He wrote a testy letter about homosexuals to his local newspaper, the Red Deer (Alberta) Advocate, complaining bitterly that Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and other groups were using taxpayer money to propagandize young children in public schools.
Darren Lund, a professor at the University of Calgary, hauled Boissoin before the Alberta Human Rights Commission, which investigated him for holding homosexuals up to hatred and contempt. After nearly six years of hearings, delays, and argument about the letter, the tribunal convicted him and his group, the Concerned Christian Coalition. As punishment, Boissoin was ordered to pay a hefty fine, apologize in writing and never again make any negative remarks about homosexuality in speeches, on the Internet, or anywhere else. He refuses to comply.
The human-rights tribunals are a censor’s dream. Under Canada’s human-rights act, commissioners can convict if they believe any published material is “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt.” Since they are “remedial” institutions and not real courts, they need not follow strict legal procedures or grant traditional rights of the accused. No one goes to prison, but the panels can fine and silence people at will — and run up the lawyer bills for years. Truth is no defense, and commissioners are authorized to confiscate a computer without a warrant. Evidence can be woefully flimsy.
In Boissoin’s case, the tribunal casually linked him to a gay-bashing said to have been perpetrated by a local man two weeks after the minister’s letter was published. The alleged bashing victim did not testify, has not been publicly identified, and apparently filed no police report. But the case got plenty of publicity, and some who testified before the panel said they thought the letter might have led to the bashing. So the chairwoman of the tribunal somehow found “sufficient nexus to conclude circumstantially that the two matters may be connected” (emphasis added).
The kangaroo courts — a national one, plus one in each province — have been under fire for months, mostly because of the Mark Steyn case. In 2006, Maclean’s magazine ran an excerpt from Steyn’s book, America Alone, warning of Islam’s threat to the West. Steyn predicted that Muslims would become a “successor population” in Europe because of their high birth rate. Three of the human-rights commissions pounced. The British Columbia panel completed a five-day hearing but has not yet released a ruling. The Ontario panel dropped the case, saying it lacked jurisdiction over printed material. The federal human-rights commission is still investigating.
Steyn and Maclean’s have churned up a good deal of controversy. Canada’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star, ran a June 16 editorial under the headline, “Curb Bigoted Acts Not Free Speech.” It said that calls for reform, including a few in parliament, “reflect growing unease that an unwarranted chill is being cast on free speech.”
Ezra Levant, targeted by the Alberta commission for publishing the Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, is a conservative lawyer, blogger, and publisher of the Western Standard. Ordered not to videotape his initial interrogation by the secrecy-minded panel, he taped it anyway and put it on Youtube.com, where it quickly drew 500,000 viewers.
In April, Levant focused on commission investigators who pose as member of hate groups on the Internet, post racist messages, then charge the owners of the site with publishing hate speech. Levant wrote: “Having learned that human rights ‘activists’ use the tactics of planting fake evidence and using fake names to provoke “hate crimes,” I now wonder if the rumored gay-bashing incident in the Boissoin case was itself manufactured. . . .” Levant is fond of referring to kangaroo court members as “the marsupials.”
Christians and conservatives are on the defensive because gays are quick to file charges. After running an ad listing Biblical references to homosexuality, a Saskatoon newspaper and man who placed the ad each had to pay $1,500 to three aggrieved gay complaintants. Another Saskatchewan man, convicted for spreading hatred against gays, had complained about an ad in a gay newspaper seeking boys for activities and specifically mentioning that their age was “not so relevant.” Catholic Insight magazine is also under investigation for commentary protested by gays.
The Boissoin case may be blossoming into the most prominent of the conflicts between Christians and gay activists, partly because Levant has been so successful in harping on the story and spreading it. Having shown little concern about the national anti-free-speech apparatus for years, the Canadian public is beginning to notice.
– John Leo is a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and a contributing editor at City Journal.