Thursday, March 31, 2005

This will be interesting indeed

In January, Calgary Roman Catholic Bishop Fred Henry had the following "pastoral letter" read out to the congregations within the diocese (and I imagine, quite a number of other dioceses followed suit).

Sure enough, Bishop Henry's letter has resulted in a human rights complaint in Alberta.

To see how this plays out will indeed be interesting, for it will be one of those rare cases that actually tests the boundaries between the fundamental freedoms (in particular, Religion (2a) and Expression (2b) in section 2 of the Charter of Rights, Equality Rights (section 15), and the boundaries laid out in the 'hate propaganda' section of the Criminal Code. (No, this isn't a criminal complaint per se, but you can be sure that sections 318, 319 of the criminal code will be part of the discussion.

The article on CTV suggests that the complaint against Bishop Henry takes issue with the aspects of Bishop Henry's article that associate homosexuality with evil, pornography etc, and call upon the government to suppress homosexuality through law.

Given that Calgary is overwhelming represented by Conservative MPs in Ottawa, it's unlikely that any of the political representatives would object to the content of Bishop Henry's letter.

I dissected Bishop Henry's letter in a rant earlier this year, and I don't see any point in rehashing it. At the moment, the Bishop is busy lapping up all of the media attention he is attracting. In a few months, when this issue actually gets into real discussion, that's when the good Bishop may find it necessary to eat a little "humble pie". (Of course, Alberta's human rights tribunal doesn't exactly have a stellar track record...)

While I respect Bishop Henry's right to express his opinions, and his obligation to represent the Roman Catholic Church's position on these and other issues, there must also be boundaries to what is said. Bishop Henry's letter certainly was an illogical rant, but whether it stepped into the realm of inciting discriminatory behaviour is open to some discussion. I can understand the reasoning of the complaint raised, but at the same time, it's far from clear that Bishop Henry has necessarily overstepped his bounds either.

In several dimensions, this complaint may be as important as the Delwin Vriend case a few years ago. (Of course, the amount of howling out of the Klein government over that one doesn't make me overly optimistic for the future of this case.

More cynically, I'm beginning to suspect that Bishop Henry is playing his cards to raise his public profile with an eye to eventually running for public office.


Something to consider looking at the Bishop's letter. What if his pastoral letter had been talking about Jewish people, or Asians? If Bishop Henry had asserted that the coercive power of the government should be used to suppress these peoples, what would the reaction be?

A quote I saw a long time ago read "Your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins". Does the Bishop's letter cross that line? Much food for thought...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My nose begins here.

(I LOVE that quote!).

I think that substitution can be an effective test to see fairness quite clearly. I like the way the new Pastoral letter reads...where we have Jews or Asians - obviously MUCH different than two white people, sex aside.


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