Bishop Henry on Alberta's Human Rights Act
"Path of Conscientious Objection ... Ought to Be Respected"
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CALGARY, Alberta, JULY 7, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the letter dated July 6 that Bishop Frederick Henry sent to Premier Ed Stelmach of Alberta, in which the bishop asks for the repeal of a section of the territory's Human Rights Act.
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Dear Premier Stelmach:
I have raised the issue of the Alberta Human Rights Commission several times with you in the past eighteen months. On each of those occasions, you said that you understood the issues and shared my concerns. However, the situation is continuing to deteriorate across our country and the various levels of governments are seemingly non-responsive.
April 2008: The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has ordered an evangelical Christian charity, Christian Horizons, to rescind its morality code and require employees to undergo anti-discriminatory training. In addition, Christian Horizons has been ordered to pay $23,000 plus lost wages for terminating Connie Heritz’s employment based on a morality code which she freely and knowingly signed as a condition of employment and which she failed to adhere to.
Every religious institution should have the jurisdictional independence to determine its own confessions, doctrines and ordinances, including conditions of employment.
May 2008: A Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal has fined a Regina marriage commissioner, Orville Nichols, $2,500 after finding he discriminated against a gay couple when he declined to perform their same-sex ceremony. Nichols, who has performed nearly 2,000 marriages since 1983, had referred the couple to another marriage commissioner because he said his religious beliefs (Baptist) kept him from performing the ceremony.
The conflict between social pressure and the demands of right conscience can lead to the dilemma either of abandoning a profession or of compromising one's convictions. Faced with that tension, despite the ruling of the Commission, we must remember that there is a middle path which opens up before workers who are faithful to their conscience. It is the path of conscientious objection, which ought to be respected by all, especially legislators.
Every person has the right to have their religious beliefs reasonably accommodated.
Each judgment emanating out of our various Human Rights Commissions 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.
June 2008: The Alberta Human Rights Tribunal fined Stephen Boissoin, $5,000.
Section 30 of the Alberta Human Rights Act states: “Evidence may be given before a human rights panel in any manner that the panel considers appropriate, and the panel is not bound by the rules of law respecting evidence in judicial proceedings.” It would also seem that this panel is also not bound by reasonable argument or the elementary rules of logic but is free to skewer anyone not espousing and proclaiming politically correct views. Darren Lund, the complainant, said that Boissoin’s words in his 2002 letter to the Red Deer Advocate were hateful, and furthermore, an assault on a gay teenager three weeks later could be connected to them. No proof of either was presented.
Lori Andreachuk, the chairperson of the Tribunal, agreed that his words were “likely” to expose gays, “a vulnerable” group, to hatred due to their sexual orientation. No court in the land would connect the letter and the assault but this silly tribunal did.
Andreachuk acknowledged that “In this case, there is no specific individual who can be compensated as there is no direct victim who has come forward...” However, she also wrote: “Dr. Lund, although not a direct victim, did expend considerable time and energy and suffered ridicule and harassment as a result of his complaint. The Panel finds therefore that he is entitled to some compensation.” One might ask on what grounds?
She concluded that Boissoin “shall pay to Dr. Lund an award for damages, jointly and severally, in the amount of $5,000.00.” Lund wasn’t the victim of any kind of discrimination and yet he is handsomely paid, and subsequently, feted as Gay Pride Parade Marshall in Calgary.
The tribunal effectively stripped Boissoin of his right to freedom of speech. “Mr. Boissoin [...] shall cease publishing in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the Internet, in future, disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals.” What is meant by “disparaging”? This is tantamount to ruling out honest debate and a plurality of views in the public sphere lest someone be offended by a differing viewpoint.
The tribunal decided to extract a further pound of flesh by way of public humiliation. “Mr. Boissoin and The Concerned Christian Coalition Inc. provide Dr. Lund with a written apology for the article in the Red Deer Advocate which was the subject of this complaint.” What happens if Lund is not satisfied with the apology?
Mr. Premier, we have talked enough about the inadequate provisions of and appointment to the Alberta Human Rights Tribunals, it is time to repeal Section 3(1)(b) of the Alberta Human Rights Act ("No person shall publish, issue or display or cause to be published, issued or displayed before the public any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that is likely to expose a person or a class of persons to hatred or contempt because of the race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income or family status of that person or class of persons") and to protect the rights of religious freedom. Every person has the right to make public statements and participate in public debate on religious grounds.
F. B. Henry
Bishop of Calgary
July 6, 2008