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Friday, October 19, 2012

News releases:  10/19/2012  |  12/17/2009  |  9/15/2009  |  5/5/2006

Pastor’s opinion not ‘hate speech’

Alberta high court affirms free speech, criticizes Alberta ‘hate speech’ law
Friday, October 19, 2012

Attorney sound bite:  Benjamin Bull

CALGARY, Alberta — Alberta’s highest court strongly upheld a pastor’s free speech Wednesday in what’s likely to be ultimate victory in a 12-year-old legal battle. The Alberta Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal that sought to reverse a ruling in favor of Pastor Stephen Boissoin, punished by the Alberta Human Rights Commission for letters-to-the-editor that expressed his Christian views about homosexual behavior.

“Christians and other people of faith should not be fined or jailed for expressing their political or religious beliefs. There is no place for thought control in a free and democratic society,” said Gerald Chipeur, one of nearly 2,200 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, who argued and served as counsel in the suit. “The tools of censorship should not be available to prohibit freedom of religious expression in Canada. The court rightly found that this type of religious speech is not ‘hate speech.’”

The high court determined that the pastor’s letter “constituted an expression of opinion” that “was not likely to expose homosexuals to hatred or contempt within the meaning of the Alberta statute.” The court cleared Boissoin of “hate speech” and did not hold him liable for any punitive damages.

The court was also highly critical of Alberta’s “hate speech” law: “Of particular concern
in the area of human rights law is that a lack of clarity will cast a chill on the exercise of the fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression and religion…,” the court wrote. “This lack of clarity has resulted in this protracted litigation, to the detriment and expense of all parties.”

A University of Calgary professor, Dr. Darren Lund, reported Boissoin to the Alberta Human Rights Commission in 2002. Lund accused Boissoin of violating the Alberta law after the letters appeared in the Red Deer Advocate.

The commission ruled against Boissoin in May 2008, ordering him to cease any further public expression of his views on homosexual behavior. The commission also ordered Boissoin to pay Lund $5,000 and provide him with a written apology even though he was not the subject of any of Boissoin’s writings and Boissoin didn’t even know who he was prior to the complaint Lund filed with the commission. In December 2009, a Canadian court reversed the commission’s order in Boissoin v. Lund.

“Because the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s decision,” Alliance Defending Freedom Executive Director of Global Benjamin Bull explained, “it will be extremely difficult for religious or political debate to be found in breach of Alberta’s human rights laws.”
  • Pronunciation guide: Chipeur (CHIP’-ee-ur), Boissoin (Buzz-AHN’)
Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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