A prison sentence for quoting the Bible in Canada? Holy Scriptures treated as “hate literature”?
That could happen if a proposed bill is passed by Parliament, according to opponents who believe it would criminalize public expression against homosexual behavior.
A self-described homosexual member of the House of Commons, Svend Robinson, is expected this week to reintroduce bill C-415, which would add sexual orientation as a protected category in Canada’s genocide and hate crimes legislation.
Christian groups lined up against the bill admit they can easily be misunderstood for opposing a measure apparently designed to protect people.
“We don’t want to promote hatred against anyone and are opposed to violence for whatever reason,” said Bruce Clemenger, head of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Centre for Faith and Public Life. “Our concern, though is that … courts have not distinguished between the identity of the person and the activity. So sexual orientation refers to both the sexual disposition as well as the activity.”
But homosexual activists contend such a distinction cannot be made with homosexuals any more than it can with matters of race or ethnic origin.
“The argument of separating the person from the behavior is their concept,” insisted Kim Vance, president of Ottawa-based EGALE, Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere.
“In reality they are the same thing,” Vance said in a WND interview. “That’s language that they use to justify [opposition], but it’s language that we don’t agree with.”
The bill’s backers argue that statements against homosexual behavior for religious reasons are exempted in the current law.
In a letter Robinson sends to inquirers, he quotes Alberta Attorney General Dave Hancock, who insists protecting gays from hateful propaganda has nothing to do with endorsing homosexuality.
“There are appropriate ways to discuss issues in our country … and you don’t need to put forward hateful literature,” Hancock said. “It doesn’t matter what you believe about sexual orientation.”
But opponents point out that the law addressed by Robinson’s amendment spells out three different types of actions or speech considered criminal, and only one can be excused by a religious defense. And even that one, opponents maintain, has not always held up in court, because its vagueness leaves wide discretion to judges.
The most dangerous aspect of this amendment is that “hate” and “hate propaganda” are not defined, says Brian Rushfeldt, executive director of the Canada Family Action Coalition in Calgary, Alberta.
“I would have no way of knowing I’m conducting a criminal act until I’m charged with it, because there is no clarity in the law,” Rushfeldt told WND.
“Sexual oriention” also is not defined in the law. Prime Minister Jean Chretien, when he was justice minister, told a constitutional parliamentary committee in 1981 that “sexual orientation” should not be in the Canadian constitution because it is too “difficult to interpret, to define.”
No religious defense is contained in section 318 of the current law, which has a sentence of up to five years in prison for advocating “genocide,” nor in section 319(1), prohibiting public incitement of “hatred” against an identifiable group that is “likely to lead to a breach of the peace.”
Section 319(2), which prohibits a public statement that “willfully promotes hatred” against a protected group, does have an article that excuses statements expressed in “good faith,” including religious expression.
Clemenger, however, points to a 4-3 Supreme Court decision in which the minority opinion, written by current Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, expressed deep reservations about whether these defenses are of any use.
“What they are saying is, that if you willfully promote hatred, you can use this defense, but no one in good faith would promote hatred,” Clemenger said. “So that ‘good faith’ clause almost eliminates the defense.”
Rushfeldt and his allies note that provincial human rights commissions, which already include sexual orientation as a protected category, have penalized people for actions motivated by their conscientious objection to homosexual behavior.
A Saskatchewan man recently was fined $5,000 for buying a newspaper ad that quoted verses from the Bible condemning homosexual behavior.
Two years ago, the Ontario Human Rights Commission penalized printer Scott Brockie $5,000 for refusing to print letterhead for a homosexual advocacy group. Brockie argued that his Christian beliefs compelled him to reject the group’s request.
Robinson’s amendment would make both of these men criminals, opponents contend.
Rushfeldt also recalled instances in which the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council rules have been used to censure programs addressing homosexuality. In 1997, the council ruled that the airing of a James Dobson “Focus on the Family” program, called “Homosexuality: Fact and Fiction,” violated the requirement that opinion, comment, and editorializing be presented in a way that is “full, fair, and proper.”
The rules are “so vague,” said Rushfeldt, “that if somebody says something that hurts feelings it can be considered a violation of the broadcast standards.”
In a current case, a British Columbia teacher could lose his job for making “derogatory and demeaning” statements against homosexuals, according to the judgment of a teachers association panel. Though none of the statements in question were made in class, the panel cited letters to a newspaper that indicated veteran teacher Chris Kempling’s attitude could poison the class environment.
One Kempling letter cited by the panel said: “Gay people are seriously at risk, not because of heterosexual attitudes but because of their sexual behaviour, and I challenge the gay community to show some real evidence that they are trying to protect their own community members by making attempts to promote monogamous, long-lasting relationships to combat sexual addictions.”
The Vancouver Sun reported Sept. 25 that the panel does not need to find direct evidence of a poisoned school environment to determine that a member is guilty of conduct unbecoming. The panel said, “It is sufficient that an inference can be drawn as to the reasonable and probable consequences of the discriminatory comments of a teacher.”
In June, Sweden passed a constitutional amendment that adds sexual orientation to groups protected against “unfavorable speech.” The amendment must be voted on again this fall, and if passed, would be enacted in January. In effect, it outlaws any teaching that homosexuality is wrong, carrying a sentence of up to four years in prison.
U.S. opponents of this kind of legislation fear that the United States is heading in the direction of Canada and Sweden as battles continued to be waged over the addition of sexual orientation as a protected category in hate crimes laws and employment discrimination.
“I think the U.S. is not far behind Canada,” said John Paulk, gender and homosexuality specialist for Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs.
Canadian pro-family activists also are concerned about challenges to the definition of marriage, especially after an Ontario court ruled earlier this year that restricting marriage to a man and a woman is unconstitutional and discriminatory.
In an “action alert” distributed last week, Rushfeldt wrote that if C-415 becomes law in Canada, “the following consequences will result, especially once hate crime charges are brought before the courts”:
- The Bible, at least certain portions of the Bible, may be declared “hate literature.”
- Churches will not be able to mention certain Scriptures.
- Clergy may be subjected to criminal charges if they refuse to marry homosexuals.
- Parents may be subjected to criminal charges if they refuse to allow their children to attend classes that teach about and promote homosexual behavior.
- Expressing disagreement with homosexual behavior or the homosexual agenda, either verbally or in writing, would be considered hate propaganda.
- Educators, including those at private religious schools, will not be able to refuse to teach homosexual curriculum.
- Religious institutions will not be allowed to teach anything non-supportive of homosexual sex.
- Canadian Blood Services will not be allowed to screen risk-behavior donors.
- Governments (including local municipalities) will be prevented from passing (even debating) sex standards laws.
In his letter to constituents, Robinson defends the necessity of the bill by using the example of American Fred Phelps, known for his website “www.godhatesfags.com.” Robinson said that when Phelps wanted to come to Canada to “pursue his campaign of hatred against gay and lesbian people,” Canadian police lamented that there was nothing in the criminal code to stop him.
Robinson quotes Sgt. Pat Callaghan, head of the hate crimes unit of the Ottawa-Carleton Police Department: “If we had that legislation, we wouldn’t have to put up with his nonsense … . We could have told him, ‘If you show up and start spreading this hate, we’ll arrest you.’”
Opponents point out, however, that Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., bases his views on religious grounds, which contradicts Robinson’s claim that he does not intend to shut down religious discussion.
EGALE’s Vance told WorldNetDaily that she believes, however, that religious speech must be limited.
“There’s a huge difference between someone being allowed to practice their religion and taking out ads in the newspaper saying that gay and lesbian people are sick and immoral,” said EGALE’s Vance. “There is a line there, and it’s been crossed.”
Responding to concerns about free speech, Robinson said the law has an additional protection in that no criminal proceeding can be instituted without the consent of the provincial attorney general, which “will prevent frivolous or trivial prosecutions.”
Clemenger said, however, that provincial law officials across the country have expressed support for the bill and have shown deference to homosexual activists in their decisions.
Robinson said the Canadian Association of Police Boards adopted a resolution in support of C-415 at its annual general meeting Aug. 23, “noting that equal protection and treatment of all citizens is fundamental to a fair justice system.”
Not a dead issue
Robinson’s bill passed a “vote in principle” in the House of Commons in May – with just 16 MPs present – and must pass a final vote before submission to the Senate, where opponents say it likely would be rubber stamped. Bills that become law pass a final formality of “royal assent” from the queen’s representative, the governor general.
Some Canadians mistakenly have believed that the bill is a dead issue, according to opponents, because when a new session of Parliament convenes, all legislation from the previous session dies.
But according to the rules, if Robinson resubmits the bill within 30 days of the Sept. 30 “Speech from the Throne” – which outlines Parliament’s plans for the year – the legislation will continue on its track from the same position it had before.
Bill Siksay, Robinson’s assistant at his Burnaby, B.C., office, said Robinson was unavailable for comment. He told WND, however, that the MP has indicated his intent to reintroduce the bill this week.
Patrice Martin, clerk of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for the House of Commons, which would handle the bill, said he expects C-415 to be reactivated.
Martin’s committee then would prioritize the bill among other submissions by government and members of parliament. The committee could either delay C-415 – a private members bill – or send it back to the House for a “third reading” and final vote, possibly with amendments.
Vance believes that based on the voting pattern of MPs, enough votes are there to pass C-415. She notes passage of a law that added sexual orientation as a factor in sentencing for crimes motivated by hatred.
“Our sense is there is very strong support for [C-415],” she said. “To me, this is just a natural extension of the sentencing law. If you agree that sexual orientation is a motivating factor for hate crimes, then it’s logical to have it for speech.”
Her group is preparing a brief for the justice committee and plans to submit a petition that it circulated in the summer.
The issue has received little attention in the Canadian press, says opponent Jim Enos, vice chairman of the Hamilton-Wentworth Family Action Council in Ontario.
“We’re asleep as a nation,” said Enos. “Outside of families who are made aware through the churches, you never hear anybody talking about it.”
“I don’t think people are all that politically minded as a whole, unless they are closely linked to a church,” Enos added. “They’re more concerned about the price of a VCR or DVD.”