Canadian church pastor taken to court for “hate speech”
What’s at Stake:
The right to freedom of expression
In June 2002, Pastor Stephen Boissoin wrote a letter to the editor of a large daily newspaper in Alberta, Canada, in which he criticized the promotion of homosexuality. He couldn’t have imagined that, simply for sharing his opinion, a “human rights” commission would take away his right to freedom of expression and order him to pay $5,000.
Most letters to the editor have a short lifespan: they’re published, perhaps attract a response in the form of another reader’s letter, and are then destined for the archives. A University of Calgary professor, Dr. Darren Lund, ensured that this would not be the case with Pastor Boissoin’s letter. He took issue with Pastor Boissoin’s viewpoint and reported him to the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission for “hate speech.”
The commission ruled against Pastor Boissoin in May 2008, ordering him to cease any further public expression of his views on the matter. The commission also ordered him to pay Lund $5,000 and provide him with a written apology. This apology was required even though Lund was never the subject of any of Pastor Boissoin’s writings and Boissoin wasn’t aware of who Lund was before he made the complaint.
In December 2009, a Canadian court exposed the tenuous nature of the commission’s dictates. It reversed the commission’s order and this decision was upheld by the highest court in Alberta in 2012. 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.” In reaching its decision, the court was also highly critical of Alberta’s “hate speech” law, noting that a lack of clarity in the law “will cast a chill on the exercise of the fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression and religion.”
ADF International allied attorney, Gerald Chipeur QC, who represented Pastor Boissoin before the Canadian courts, commented: “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.’”
Our Role in the Case
ADF International allied attorney, Gerald Chipeur QC, defended Pastor Boissoin throughout his legal ordeal.