Pastor Acquitted of Hate Crime Charge in Canada

A Canadian judge last week exonerated a former pastor who was charged of committing a hate crime for sending a letter to a local newspaper criticizing homosexuality.

Judge E.C. Wilson overturned a 2008 ruling by the Alberta Human Rights Commission that ordered former Alberta pastor Stephen Boissoin to stop all public criticisms of homosexuality and to pay the plaintiff $5,000 in damages, according to The Canadian Press.

Wilson ruled on Friday that the 2002 letter, which carried the headline "Homosexual agenda wicked," was not a hate crime but is permissible under freedom of speech.

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"The decision of Justice Earl Wilson of the Court of Queen's Bench in Boissoin v. Lund will have a significant long term positive impact on religious freedom in Canada," wrote Gerald Chipeur , Boissoin's attorney, in a summary analysis of the judgment, according to

Chipeur commented that the definition of what qualifies as hate speech was made clearer through the ruling. He also said the judge took away the "tools of censorship" and protected freedom of expression.

In 2002, Boissoin sent a letter to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate newspaper criticizing the pro-gay rights curriculum in the province's education system.

"From kindergarten class on our children, your grandchildren are being strategically targeted, psychologically abused and brainwashed by homosexual and pro-homosexual educators," Pastor Stephen Boissoin wrote.

The letter caught the attention of a human rights activist who filed a complaint against the pastor for "hate-mongering." The activist supported his case by pointing to a homosexual who was beaten up two weeks after the letter was published as evidence that such speech can incite violence.

Boissoin's attorney, however, argued that the plaintiff cannot prove the connection between his client's letter and discriminatory practices against homosexuals in Alberta. The lawyer also highlighted that Alberta's hate speech laws cannot suppress people's right to express their opinions.

"While the decision did not strike down Alberta's 'hate speech' laws, it significantly limited the application of such laws," Chipeur said.

But plaintiff Darren Lund responded to the ruling saying, "I really think this is a step backwards for our province," in an e-mail to The Canadian Press.

"In my view, the judge's ruling sets such strict standards for hate speech that this section is rendered all but unenforceable."

The case of Boissoin, which had been ongoing for more than seven years, was used by conservative Christian leaders in the United States as an example of what could happen if D.C. lawmakers passed an expanded hate crimes law.

Prominent Christian right leaders such as James Dobson, Chuck Colson, and Tony Perkins warned that a hate crimes law could lead to "thought police" who consider verbal attacks or speeches to be hate crimes.

Despite the vocal protest by conservative leaders, a U.S.-version of the expanded hate crimes law was passed in October. The law adds violence against individuals based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability to the list of federal hate crimes. Conservative groups have vowed to keep a close watch on whether the legislation respects free speech and religious liberty as its supporters have promised.

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