It was January 2005, and the “debate” over gay “marriage” had been settled in typical Canadian fashion: according to the nation’s academic and media elites—and even some “conservative” politicians—opponents of the new “same sex marriage” laws were just unsophisticated, hate-filled bigots; meanwhile, millions of ordinary citizens with traditional values silently fumed, terrified of being labeled “homophobes.”
They had good reason to fear.
Outspoken Calgary Bishop Fred Henry issued a pastoral letter on the matter that month, which reiterated Church teaching on marriage, and stated the unvarnished if politically incorrect truth.
“Contrary to what is normally alleged,” he wrote, “the primary goals in seeking legalization of same-sex ‘marriage’ are not the financial or health or inheritance or pension benefits associated with marriage…The goal is to acquire a powerful psychological weapon to change society’s rejection of homosexual activity and lifestyle into gradual, even if reluctant, acceptance.”
As proof, Bishop Henry noted that, “18 months after same-sex ‘marriage’ arrived in Canada, more than 95% of adult Canadian gays have chosen to ignore their new legal right.” Having loudly insisted upon their “right” to marry, and crudely demonizing their opponents in the process, few Canadian homosexuals subsequently bothered to tie the knot.
Bishop Henry is no stranger to controversy. The previous year, Customs and Revenue (the nation’s version of the IRS) scolded him by telephone for denouncing then-Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, a “devout Catholic” who nevertheless supported abortion and gay “marriage.” The Agency even asked Bishop Henry to remove his open letter to Martin from the diocesan Web site. Henry refused.
So he had reason to suspect that his pastoral letter would cause a brief stir if the secular establishment caught wind of it.
What happened next dumbfounded even some of Bishop Henry’s ideological opponents: he received a summons to appear in court.
Except the court wasn’t a real court at all, but the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal.
AN ORWELLIAN ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSE
Canada’s Human Rights Commissions (HRCs) exist at the provincial and federal levels, and were established in the 1970s to address case-by-case discrimination in housing and employment. However, HRC tribunals later began intimidating citizens who declined to embrace then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s new vision of Canada: multicultural and pacifist; coercively “tolerant”; anti-tradition, anti-family and anti-life.
Sean Murphy of the Catholic Civil Rights League describes one notorious HRC case, in which, “a Christian printer [Scott Brockie] is ordered to produce business cards and letterhead for an organization that promotes pro-pedophilia essays, is fined $5,000 for having refused to do so and is left with $40,000 in legal bills for daring to defend himself.”
The HRCs operate outside the criminal justice system in an Orwellian alternative universe. Taxpayers pick up the tab for the complainant’s legal fees, which merely encourages “victims” to file mischievous complaints; the accused must pay for their own defense, and many simply can’t afford to. (Legal aid doesn’t cover HRC cases; remember, they fall outside the jurisdiction of the official justice system.)
Traditional rules of evidence and due process don’t apply in Canadian Human Rights tribunals. Truth is no defense. As Paul Tuns explained in the Canadian pro-life newspaper The Interim (February 2008), “hearsay evidence is permitted, hearings can be held in secret, the accused usually do not face their accusers, and, most important, the presumption of innocence so vital in our common law tradition is suspended as the accused must prove their innocence.”
Double and even triple jeopardy is commonplace. (Consider world famous columnist Mark Steyn, who this year faced charges of “fl agrant Islamophobia” in three jurisdictions at the same time.) Property, such as a defendant’s computer, can be seized without a warrant and kept for “a reasonable length of time.” (It doesn’t help that Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn’t recognize the right to private property in the first place.)
Some HRC decisions have forced defendants to apologize to their accusers, even though the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that schoolgirl rapist, torturer and murderer Paul Bernardo—arguably the most despised man in the country—isn’t obligated to apologize to his victims’ family; that, the Court ruled, would constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The HRCs boast a Stalinist 100 percent conviction rate: no one so charged has ever been found “not guilty” of uttering “hate speech”—defi ned in Section 13.1 of the Human Rights Act as any comment “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt.” Note that magic word: “likely.”
In other words, if the “offensive” words might, some day in the future, possibly expose some unknown individual to “hatred or contempt”—neither of which is clearly defined— the verdict is guilty. Canada does recognize violent hate crimes in criminal law, yet, weirdly, no one punished by the HRCs has been subsequently found guilty in a real court of a tangible, real-world hate crime.
The system is science fiction come to life—”thought crime” meets “future crime”—and it is enshrined in Canadian law. Others have called it Monty Pythonesque.
Except Canada’s Human Rights Commissions aren’t amusing to those caught in their grasp. As his mischievous speeches and op-eds demonstrate, Ezra Levant has indeed kept his sense of humor despite spending two years and $100,000 to defend himself for the “crime” of reprinting the notorious “Danish Mohammed” cartoons in his (now defunct) magazine. But few Canadians dragged before these kangaroo courts possess Levant’s Rolodex of powerful friends, or his daunting fundraising and public relations acumen.
Of course, Bishop Fred Henry wasn’t a friendless, anonymous victim, either. His case was settled in short order. After mediation between himself and his accuser, gay activist Norm Greenfield, Bishop Henry abided by a confi dentially agreement and declined to discuss details of the settlement.
“But the confi dentiality agreement did not stop Greenfi eld from spouting off to the media,” reported LifeSiteNews.com, “especially since, as he says, that’s what the complaint was all about. ‘What I wanted to do is bring the issue [of gay ‘marriage’] to the media. There really is no other platform to do this, with the media selective in what sort of discussions they want to hear and the lack of public forums in the city for people like myself to go on and talk about this issue,’ Greenfield told reporters after the meeting.”
It was an odd assertion, given that same-sex “marriage” had indeed been discussed (opponents would say “promoted” ad nauseum) on talk shows and news broadcasts, as well as in every mainstream newspaper in the country, for months on end.
LifeSiteNews.com added, “The fact that the complaints, taken seriously by the human rights commission, caused substantial stress to Bishop Henry, faithful Christians and freedom lovers across the country, does not seem to have entered the equation for Mr. Greenfield or the commission. Moreover, the defense has cost the diocese and its contributors thousands of dollars.”
Not surprisingly, Bishop Henry is one of the nation’s most vocal critics of the Human Rights Commission regime, which is now an international embarrassment thanks to high-profile cases like his and Levant’s. (For example, the American Political Science Association is threatening to relocate its 2009 meeting, currently scheduled for Toronto, to protest the HRCs’ draconian trampling of free speech—a move that would cost the City hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tourist revenue and taxes.)
Earlier this year, Bishop Henry again called on Alberta premier Ed Stelmach to repeal Section 13’s dubious “likely” clause.
“Each judgment emanating out of our various human rights commissions,” he wrote, “seems to be more brazen and bizarre than the one that preceded it. However, for inane stupidity and gross miscarriage of justice our own Alberta Human Rights Tribunal deserves to take first prize for its treatment of Stephen Boissoin.”
Boissoin, a youth pastor, was fined $7000 and, incredibly, banned for life from ever quoting Bible verses condemning homosexual acts. This, after a local newspaper published his letter to the editor criticizing the “radical gay agenda.”
Bishop Henry also condemned an Ontario HRC ruling against the evangelical charity Christian Horizons, which cares for persons with special needs. The organization was fined $23,000 after firing an employee who had signed its morality code then violated the code by moving in with her lesbian lover.
Meanwhile, back in 2005, the British Columbia HRC fined the Knights of Columbus for refusing to rent their Port Coquitlam hall for a lesbian “wedding” reception.
THE CASE OF CATHOLIC INSIGHT
Bishop Henry, along with Ezra Levant and the nation’s informal network of conservative and libertarian online “bloggers,” has also publicized the case of Fr. Alphonse de Valk, who edits the magazine Catholic Insight.
In December 2006, Fr. de Valk received a complaint fi led by gay activist Rob Wells, through the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Levant (who happens to be Jewish) has repeatedly described Wells as “the Canadian Fred Phelps” and “an anti- Catholic bigot in Edmonton who has made a habit of harassing school children and little old ladies outside St. Joseph’s Basilica.”
According to Levant and others, Wells “actually dresses his vehicle with anti-Christian hate messages, equating Catholics with Nazis, and drives around looking for people to offend.” Even many gay activists have condemned Wells’ antics.
Apparently equipped with no sense of irony, this same Rob Wells brought a “hate speech” complaint against Catholic Insight. “The nine-point complaint,” according to The Interim, “listed fragments of columns and news published in the magazine dating back to 1994 that are alleged to have caused offence to homosexuals. Wells did not provide any context, nor any reference even to the editions of the magazine from which the supposedly offending passages were taken.”
Fr. de Valk explains that Catholic Insight simply reports on current events through the lens of Church teaching. But in Canada today, de Valk notes, “there is an official view of certain issues; certain politically correct pieties must never be questioned and if that line is not toed, private citizens can utilize state-run institutions to silence and even punish those with dissenting views.”
So far, Catholic Insight has spent well over $20,000 to defend itself, with no end in sight. (Remember: taxpayers pay Well’s legal bills.)
At the same time, another gay activist is campaigning to have Catholic Insight stripped of its Heritage Canada Publications Assistance Program. This funding keeps the majority of Canadian magazines financially viable, by reducing their postage costs.
Unlike most Canadian magazines, Maclean’s (the nation’s oldest newsweekly) is run by a huge multi-media corporation. When they and their star columnist, Mark Steyn, were hit by a three-way HRC complaint by a radical Muslim group (citing Steyn’s “hateful” articles about Muslim immigration to Western nations), they hired the best legal team available. Meanwhile, Steyn (who calls himself “a one man global content provider”) set about skewering the absurdities of his case for his devoted international readership. And absurdities were thick on the Vancouver ground. When Steyn’s case was heard this spring in British Columbia, some comments posted at a popular Catholic Internet site based in the United States, Catholic Answers, were read into evidence against him.
The bizarre development was reported by Pete Vere for the Web site Catholic Exchange in an article entitled “Catholicism- A Hate Crime in Canada?”:
The alleged poster [of the message], who is an American writing from America, was commenting on an article written by Mark Steyn — a Canadian author who now lives in New Hampshire. The tribunal accepted this posting as evidence that Steyn promoted ‘hatred’.
Imagine that! Canada’s human rights tribunals are now attempting to prosecute a case against an American resident, based upon what an American citizen allegedly posted to a mainstream American Catholic website. What passes for mainstream Catholic discussion in America is now the basis for a hate complaint in Canada.
Not a few angry Catholic Answers chat room regulars were outraged at the implication that agents of a foreign country were monitoring their online communication.
Canada’s small community of religious publishers is watching the Steyn case with interest as well. After all, the Muslim complainants are demanding that the government force Maclean’s to print their self-penned rebuttal to Steyn’s piece—essentially 5,000 words of Islamist propaganda—completely unedited and unvetted, even by inhouse defamation lawyers. If successful, this unprecedented demand would thereafter force Catholic media to carry gay rights or pro abortion propaganda, or even anti-Catholic screeds. (Incidentally: Because Christians are still a “privileged” numerical majority in Canada, and not an ethnic, cultural or sexual minority group, they are barred from fi ling HRC complaints.)
Fortunately, a Human Rights tribunal in another jurisdiction declined to hear the case against Maclean’s, but issued a troubling statement explaining why. As Joe Sinasac, editor of Toronto’s Catholic Register, editorialized:
The Ontario commission decided it was not allowed by law to investigate the complaint as it has no jurisdiction over the content of articles in the media. That should have been the end of the matter. But not for [OHRC chief Barbara] Hall and her commission.
Instead, Hall went on to, well, essentially issue a verdict on the complaint. She described the article in Maclean’s ‘and others like it’ as examples of racism and Islamophobia….
This is a shocking statement for a supposedly disinterested public adjudicator to make on a contested issue…. Those who believe strongly in religious freedom should be equally concerned about freedom of speech. Both are under serious attack in Canada in 2008.
As we have seen, in today’s Internet age, the biased, anti-Catholic decisions of Canada’s Human Rights Commissions impact American Catholics as well. And the system is no respecter of persons—even bishops and priests are targets. Americans have their own burgeoning anti-Christian “Human Rights” bureaucracy to contend with. But with luck, they will learn a lesson from their neighbors to the north and start fi ghting back while they still can.
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