Canada's Human Rights Beef With Catholics

Magazine Investigated for Offending Homosexuals

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By Pete Vere

TORONTO, FEB. 5, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Catholic Insight, a Canadian magazine known for its fidelity to Church teachings, has been targeted by the Canadian Human Rights Commission for publishing articles deemed offensive to homosexuals.

The commission has been investigating the Toronto-based publication since homosexual activist Rob Wells, a member of the Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Pride Center of Edmonton, filed a nine-point complaint last February with the government agency in which he accuses the magazine of promoting "extreme hatred and contempt" against homosexuals.

Father Alphonse de Valk, the founder and editor of Catholic Insight, disagrees the accusations. "Wells took three pages of quotes out of context," he told ZENIT.

The Basilian priest added that Catholic Insight "bases itself on the Church's teaching and applies it to various circumstances in our time." He noted that some of the statements that allegedly promoted hatred and contempt against homosexuals were taken from recent Vatican pronouncements.

Other types of statements published by Catholic Insight on the topic of homosexuality include political statements, medical studies, news reports and other studies. Many of the articles concerned addressed the campaign in Canada to legalize same-sex marriage, which Catholic Insight openly opposed.

"The basic view of the Church is that homosexual acts are a sin, but we love the sinner," said Father de Valk, adding that opposing same-sex marriage is not the same as rejecting homosexuals as persons.

The priest said that homosexual activists are broadly defining opposition to homophobia as opposition to any homosexual act: "They maintain that the whole Catholic Church is homophobic."

Allegations

The complaint against Father de Valk is just one of several complaints against Christians that Canada's human rights commissions have investigated in recent years. Despite assurance from politicians that Canadian faith communities would not be affected when the government legalized same-sex marriage, the number of complaints against Christians have only increased since 2005, say several concerned Christians.

Canada's human rights commissions are empowered by Canadian law to investigate allegations of offensive speech. There are 10 commissions in the country -- the national commission, known as the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and a provincial commission for each of Canada's 10 provinces, except British Columbia.

Once any one of the commissions has completed its investigation, it may then pass the case along to its respective human rights tribunal for adjudication. In British Columbia, individuals bring their complaints directly to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal.

The process favors the complainant over the accused, claim Father de Valk and other Christian critics of the commissions and tribunals. There is no cost to the one who files a complaint, and the commission provides legal support to the complainant. In contrast, the accused must pay his legal costs.

Additionally, contrary to the English legal tradition, there is a reverse onus requiring the accused to prove his or her innocence. "There's a presumption of guilt," said Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary, who himself was subject to two complaints before the Alberta Human Rights Commission in 2005 after publishing a pastoral letter defending the traditional definition of marriage earlier that same year.

"I really feel that we are into a crisis situation here where we are experiencing a trumping of religious freedom," said Bishop Henry.

The prelate describes Father de Valk as "an orthodox, very straight-forward individual."

He said that Catholic Insight's studies have been in-depth and in keeping with Catholic teaching, but given Canada's current culture, the bishop anticipated Father de Valk would eventually be subject to a human rights complaint. "He's a public target," Bishop Henry said. "His magazine is rather public."

Bishop Henry feels that Canada's commissions and tribunals are targeting Catholics in the name of promoting human rights. "Catholicism seems to be under attack for a variety of different reasons," he said. "I think one of the things is that we're not trendy; we don't easily kind of compromise on anything we consider to be essential.

"So when you have very clear definitive teaching with respect to marriage and what marriage is all about, and with homosexuality as intrinsically disordered and contrary to natural law, closing sexual relations to the gift of life, I don't see where Catholics can say anything else that what our traditional teaching is."

"That is not a very popular, politically correct expression of views in our society," the bishop said. "If you can knock down that and kind of bring the Catholic Church to its knees, I would think the opponents would be very pleased to do so."

Bishop Henry lays part of the blame with an activist judiciary that has read "sexual orientation" into the section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that protects against discrimination. "And further, they're reading in 'sexual practices,'" said the bishop.

Precedents

Christian groups have a losing record before Canada's human rights tribunals for alleged discrimination. In November 2005, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal ordered a Knights of Columbus council to pay two lesbians $1,000 each in damages, plus legal costs, after the council declined to rent their hall to the couple for a same-sex marriage ceremony.

In 2000, the Ontario Human Rights Commission fined Scott Brockie, a Protestant print-shop owner, $5,000 for declining to print, on moral grounds, homosexual-themed stationary.
The same tribunal fined London, Ontario, $10,000, plus interest, in 1997 when Mayor Diane Haskett declined to proclaim a gay pride day for the city.

Carmen Grigoire, an official spokeswoman for the Canadian Human Rights Commission, would not discuss the complaint against Father de Valk when contacted by ZENIT. The commission is investigating a similar case against the Christian Heritage Party, a political party co-founded by pro-life Catholics and Protestants. The complaint against the party was also initiated by Rob Wells.

Both Bishop Henry and Father de Valk point out that while Catholics have limited their criticism to homosexual acts, many homosexual activists have made statements openly promoting hatred toward Catholics without being investigated by Canada's human rights commissions. "There is a distinct lack of reciprocity in how Catholics react," Bishop Henry said.

In the end, Bishop Henry feels that Canada's human rights tribunals are censoring the expression of traditional Christian teaching: "The social climate right now is that we're into a new form of censorship and thought control, and the commissions are being used as thought police."