A decision is months overdue on a complaint brought against a
Saskatchewan newspaper and one of its advertisers by the province’s
Human Rights Commission for printing an
ad, consisting of four Bible verses, which the commission says violates
homosexuals’ human rights.
Though a decision is expected any day, defenders of the ad say the
case will surely make its way to the Canadian Supreme Court.
The case originated from complaints made by three homosexual men who
saw the ad in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. Paid for by Hugh Owens, the ad
displayed citations of four Bible verses on the left, an equal sign and
a picture of two male stick figures holding hands inside the
international symbol for “no” on the right. It ran June 30, 1997.
Each complaint letter asserted Owens’ advertisement “tends to
restrict the enjoyment of rights which I am entitled to under the law,
and exposes me to hatred and otherwise affronts my dignity because of my
sexual orientation, contrary to Section 14 of the Saskatchewan Human
That code prohibits publication and radio and television broadcasts
of “any statement or other representation” that offends any individual
or group based on “race, creed, religion, color, sex, sexual
orientation, family status, marital status, disability, age,
nationality, place of origin or receipt of public assistance.”
Two years later, in August 1999, a board of inquiry heard the case
with witnesses from both sides of the debate — the StarPhoenix and
Owens saying the ad is an expression of free speech, and the plaintiffs
along with government-procured witnesses claiming the ad incited hatred
and violence against homosexuals.
Canadian law outlines a complaint system
for human rights violations from within the government’s administration
that is intended to lighten the load of the courts. Complaints filed
with the Human Rights Commission follow one of two paths: An early
settlement may be pursued in which the two parties — the complainant
and the accused — undergo mediated discussion, or the commission may
investigate a complaint to determine its validity. If the complaint is
not valid, it is discarded.
Once an investigation is completed and the commission determines a
violation of the nation’s Human Rights Code occurred, the case goes
before a one-person tribunal, called a board of inquiry, who is required
to have a “legal background.” A government attorney pleads the case of
the complainant while the accused is left to find his own counsel.
The commission has asked that both the StarPhoenix and Owens pay
$2,000 in damages to each of the three complainants and that the
defendants share the $4,500 cost for two of the province’s expert
One of those witnesses was Dr. Didi Khayatt, an education professor
currently in the middle of a six-year study on how “lesbian” desire is
expressed in Egypt. Khayatt testified that sexual identity is an
integral part of one’s personality and is constantly developing
throughout a person’s lifetime. She also said homosexuals face
“misunderstanding and hostility … in a heterosexist society.”
The Bible quotes chosen by Owens promote that hostility, according to
the commission. StarPhoenix’s publisher, Lyle Sinkewicz, disagrees.
“In that the Bible is the best-selling book in the world and it is
generally not thought to be hate literature, I thought it was OK to run
the ad,” Sinkewicz told the board.
In a strange turn of events, the commission set to prove him wrong by
changing the focus of the hearing from judging a possible human rights
violation to determining whether or not the Bible condemns
homosexuality. To accomplish that goal, Rev. Brent Hawkes testified to
the commission that the Bible does not necessarily condemn
According to the commission’s closing arguments, “Rev. Brent Hawkes
cast doubt on the Biblical passages which Owens purports to be the word
of God, pointing out that many scholars are now questioning whether
those passages refer to homosexuality at all.”
Hawkes also declared Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews will be
punished by God for holding that the practice of homosexuality is wrong.
Darien Moore, counsel for the commission, continued his statement by
saying, “We heard several witnesses from religions other than Mr. Owens’
who explained that homosexuals may or may not be accepted as full
members of their congregations. It is obvious that the issue of
homosexuality is being debated in all of the mainline churches.”
Now the issue is also being debated by the Canadian government. The
Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission has effectively turned the
Owens/StarPhoenix case into a theological debate that will be settled by
Valerie Watson — the young lawyer comprising the board of inquiry for
this case. Certainly, the nature and weight of the debate has led to
the delay of a ruling by Watson.
But this isn’t the only case in Canada that shows government
restrictions on freedom of speech and expression — a right
Saskatchewan’s justice minister insists has not been infringed by the
Human Rights Commission. Rory Leishman of the London Free Press, told
WorldNetDaily of similar situations around the country.
Scott Brockie, owner of a Toronto print shop, has a case pending in
Ontario. Based on his religious convictions, Brockie refused to print
letterhead for the homosexual activist group Lesbian and Gay Archives,
whose mission is to collect historical information on homosexuality.
Brockie suggested other print shops in the area, but the group filed its
complaint, accusing the printer of affronting their dignity.
Brockie was ordered by the commission to pay the group $5,000 in
damages and submit a written apology. The printer has vowed he will not
comply with the order.
Canada’s Human Rights Code allows each provincial commission “to do
anything [short of imprisonment] that, in the opinion of the board, the
party ought to do to achieve compliance with this Act, both in respect
of the complaint and in respect of future practices.”
Should defendants refuse to comply with a board’s order, a commission
may bring the case before the Canadian justice system. Punishments
could then result in jail time.
Brockie is not alone is his stand against a board ruling. London,
Ontario Mayor Dianne Haskett did not respond when requested to proclaim
a “gay pride” weekend. “Homophiles,” the pro-homosexual group who made
the request, complained. Haskett was ordered by an Ontario board of
inquiry to made the proclamation, despite her religious convictions, and
pay $5,000 in damages to Homophiles.
Haskett refused to obey the order, and the incident became a central
issue in the subsequent mayoral election. She was overwhelmingly
In her victory speech, the mayor said, “I only sought to maintain my
constitutional right as a Canadian to freedom of expression. Until our
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is overthrown, we as Canadians
still have the right to choose what we will say and what we will not
say. And no Human Rights Commission, acting outside the law, can take
that right away from us.”
Others join Haskett in her disapproval of human rights commissions.
Critics view the commissioners’ actions as overreaching, much the same
as some Americans’ complaints of “judicial activism.”
Leishman calls the commissions “a perverse invention of the 1960s.”
He says Canada had “one of the world’s best records of respect for basic
human rights and fundamental freedoms” before the Human Rights Code was
written and perceives the commissions’ actions as an attempt to achieve
perfection in human affairs.
“Mandating human rights commissions and other state authorities to
try to achieve perfection is a formula for tyranny,” Leishman said.
He quotes Thomas Sowell of Stanford University: “If you are free
only when others think you are right, then you are not free at all.”
Leishman also issues a wake-up call to his fellow Canadians with the
words of John Philpot Curran: “The condition upon which God hath given
liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break,
servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of
Julie Foster is a staff
reporter for WorldNetDaily.