A website featuring comments by, for and about “principled conservatism” is being investigated by the Canadian government, and could be fined or ordered shut down for some postings about Islam and homosexuality.
Connie Wilkins, who with Mark Fournier runs Canada’s Free Dominion site and posts articles, comments and blogs on a wide range of issues, said she just was notified by the nation’s
Human Rights Commission about the investigation.
The Human Rights Commission is appointed to investigate complaints that “hate speech” or other illegal activity has been detected, and issue rulings or recommendations to the national Human Rights Tribunal, which has yet to find any defendant innocent in such a case.
The scenario bears a close resemblance to the situation feared by opponents in the United States should a pending “hate crimes” legislation be approved by Congress and signed into law by the president. It would essentially provide an enhanced penalty for a range of crimes if someone perceives they are being targeted for being part of a recognized population segment, such as the homosexual community.
As such, Christians fear simply expressing their biblical belief that homosexuality is immoral could be classified a “hate crime.”
As WND has reported, that legislative plan has been moving forward in Congress, with U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., recently adding his version to a pending defense spending bill.
Supporters say it would address only crimes, but opponents fear the actual results would be similar to Canada’s, where a printer was fined several years ago for refusing a pro-homosexual printing contract that he said violated his traditional Christian beliefs.
Or, as in the current case, comments about homosexuality or Islam could be classified as illegal.
Among the statements cited in the complaint are posts from Bill Whatcott, who said: “I can’t figure out why the homosexuals I ran into are on the side of the Muslims. After all, Muslims who practice Sharia law tend to advocate beheading homosexuals.”
Whatcott earlier had been targeted by Saskatchewan’s human rights tribunal for distributing a flyer featuring a copy of a classified ad soliciting young boys, “age unimportant.”
The Canadian commission, Wilkins told WND, is “incredibly powerful, and they don’t have to sort of follow the rule of law, the way a court would. Essentially once they decide that they’re going to target you, you’re guilty until proven innocent.”
Under the standards set up by the commission, in Canada “it is a crime to offend someone,” she said. “That’s the way it is here,” she said. “I’ve made the argument many times, the ‘hate crimes’ laws are wrong. It puts more value on victims of crimes when somebody judges the crime was perpetrated because they hated them.”
She said she was notified of the complaint on July 17, with a deadline for a full response to the charge by July 18. She had never been sent an original complaint, and the notice simply was to remind her of deadline she hadn’t been told about.
“There was a thread on Free Dominion, and [a woman] complained, using this thread as an example of discriminatory material,” Wilkins said. The offending material included a link to a picture of a flyer that a Free Dominion contributor released discussing dangers of radical Islam.
The complaint from Marie-Line Gentes, a teacher at a Canadian college, “was that we were propagating this hate material,” Wilkins said. “I really think at this point her motive was to try to shut down Free Dominion rather than get offensive material removed.”
“We are definitely not a hate site,” Wilkins told WND. “There’s a whole variety of opinion on our site.”
“Right now, our lawyer is looking over the paperwork. We’ve set up a defense fund,” she said. “We’re going to have to spend some money on lawyers. We don’t know how much.”
The group also has requested additional time to review the complaint about an incident that dates back more than a year already.
Wilkins told WND such cases are becoming more common. Recently a fraternal organization was sued when it objected to a homosexual wedding in a building used for rentals.
Another man was sued simply for writing a letter to the editor expressing his opposition to having teachers instruct children in homosexuality at public schools, Wilkins said.
The problem is the wide open door the standards leave for interpreting whether something is a crime.
“The problem is there are so many grey areas. If somebody posts on our site, and someone else, a member of an ethnic group, religion or identifiable minority of any kind reads it, we have no way of knowing if that is going to be perceived as a hate crime. All it takes is for someone to say my feelings were hurt.”
The process then, is that, “if the tribunal believes their feelings were hurt, that’s it for you.”
Canada’s commission refused to return a message from WND asking for an explanation on the conflict between a Christian exercising his faith and a homosexual’s protection from any statement, including a quote from the Bible, of condemnation.
However, a lawyer for the printer, Scott Brockie, in that case pointed out the difficulty.
“Mr. [Ray] Brillinger can live his life the way he wants to,” lawyer Philip McMullen said of the homosexual activist who had brought the complaint. “But my client has to take his religion off like a housecoat and leave it hanging behind the front door when he goes out in the mornings.”
Wilkins said the full details of the specific concerns have yet to be explained.
“The nature of this upset has yet to be entirely revealed, but apparently somebody took offense to the concept that Muslim theology is more stridently opposed to homosexuality than any aspect of western society,” the organization said.
“It’s really a warning for you in the United States to look at this and see what’s happening,” Wilkins said. “You have to fight this with all that you have.”
She said her operation’s computer server actually is located in the United States, simply to prevent when happened in an earlier case involving a similar complaint in England – authorities simply shut down the site and erased its data files.
The government organization said it can issue rulings for discrimination based on race, national origin, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status and family status or physical or mental disability or criminal record.
The government commission, in fact, has lamented the fact that it has jurisdiction only within Canada.
“It is true that website material … can still be posted on websites and by persons that are beyond the Commission’s jurisdiction. This limitation stems from both the nature of the Internet and jurisdictional limits of Canadian law,” the commission says. “Nevertheless, a decision under section 13 or a conviction under the hate promotion provisions of the Criminal Code are of great importance in indicating that hate promotion … is not permissible in Canada.”
It also has a huge campaign to “prevent discrimination,” a section that Christians fear if applied in the U.S. would make even their opinions and beliefs subject to penalty.
Under that assignment from the government, the commission “works with community groups, employers, and others … to get the word out through the media, through public service announcements, speaking engagements and public events.”
The goal is to “ensure that as many people as possible, from coast to coast, have access to information about human rights,” it said. The information is important, because its broader strategy is to help put in place “a culture of human rights.”
“The Commission is proposing … internal responsibility systems dealing with conflicts in the workplace are consistent with human rights. Employers should train managers and employees , and ensure strong workplace policies and awareness of human rights standards and remedies to prevent human rights abuses.”
Former White House insider Chuck Colson, in his Breakpoint commentary, has labeled such a provision proposed in the United States a “Thought Crimes” plan.
But Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel told WND the most recent move, to add the plan to a defense spending bill, is a political maneuver to create an issue for President Bush, who is seeking the defense bill but opposes the “hate crimes” plan.
Joe Glover of the Family Policy Network said the move is “shockingly manipulative.”
“It is a shameless attempt to push the homosexual agenda on the American people by exploiting American soldiers who are currently in harm’s way around the world,” he said.
WND columnist Janet Folger wrote the idea of arresting people for stating their religious beliefs that homosexuality is wrong is no longer something that “may” happen in the future.
“Here’s the Cliff Notes of what so called ‘hate crime’ legislation has already done IN AMERICA,” she wrote. “This is no longer up for debate. Here are the facts.”
- Madison, Wisconsin. David Ott, a former homosexual, was arrested for a “hate crime” for sharing his testimony with a homosexual at a gas station. He faced a $10,000 fine and one year behind bars. Seven thousand dollars in legal fees later, [he] was ordered to attend re-education classes at the University of Wisconsin conducted by a lesbian.
- St. Petersburg, Florida. Five Christians including two pastors were arrested at a homosexual rally for stepping onto the public sidewalk instead staying caged in their officially designated “free speech zone.”
- Elmira, New York. The Elmira police arrested seven Christians for praying in a public park where a homosexual festival was getting started.
- Crystal Lake, Illinois. Two 16 year old girls are facing felony “hate crime” charges for the content of their flyers.
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Arlene Elshinnawy, a 75-year-old grandmother of three, and Linda Beckman, a 70-year-old grandmother of 10 (along with nine others), were arrested for sharing their faith on the public sidewalk.
Folger said the testimony from the grandmothers can be seen and heard at the Stop Hate Crimes Now website.
“Just how many cases do we need to cite before America stands up and stops the bill that will criminalize Christianity?” she asked.
Rev. Rick Scarborough, president of Vision America, said the plan will “punish Christians for preaching certain biblical principles and lead to pastors being jailed in violation of their First Amendment rights as we have already witnessed in Europe.”
A pastor in Europe already has served a prison term for preaching that the Bible condemns homosexuality.
Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy for the Family Research Council, said even with the U.S. version and its “speech protections,” there are grave dangers.
“We’ve seen it in states, with the Philadelphia 11, where they used ethnic intimidation laws. Intimidation is a broad term, it does not require any act of violence and intimidation is included in the definition of hate crime,” he told WND.
The American Family Association earlier issued an “Action Alert” about the pending proposal.
And the Alliance Defense Fund, a leading advocate for freedom of speech in the U.S., analyzed the proposal and concluded “it is entirely constitutional for a person’s speech to be used to prove a crime was committed.”
“And one’s speech (including reading materials, websites visited, sermons heard and preached) is particularly relevant when a component of the crime itself is politically incorrect motive,” the analysis said. “The chilling of speech that may result from such a regime is self-evident, whether the First Amendment is implicated or not.”
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