Saturday, July 21, 2007

Closing Comments On Boissoin Hearing

The closing arguments over Boissoin's letter were heard yesterday.

The arguments were basically of two forms - either focusing upon the content and implied intent of the letter, or focusing upon whether the author has a "right" to write and publish that letter.

Argues Lund:

"A reasonable person would conclude that these statements lay homosexuals open to ridicule, ill feelings, hostility and violence, creating the right conditions for hatred or contempt to flourish," Lund added.

Boissoin's lawyer, Gerald Chipeur, argues something slightly elliptical to Lund's claims:

Boissoin's lawyer, Gerry Chipeur, argued the letter does not fall under hate speech, but under freedom of speech and freedom of religion. He said declaring it hate material would be censorship and hamper free debate.

It was written, he said, in response to the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission's website, which said it was funding with public money an initiative to teach school-aged children that homosexuality was "normal, necessary, acceptable and productive."

The purpose of the letter was to "spur political debate and discussion in society" -- not to expose a person or class of person to hatred or contempt, he said.

"And debate was surely created after his letter was published, as many letters to the editor, on all sides of the debate, then appeared in the Red Deer Advocate," said Chipeur. "As is the case when politically volatile issues are debated, Mr. Boissoin's language was highly emotional and rhetorical.

"It was a call to political action catalyzed by Mr. Boissoin's discovery that his tax dollars were funding a particular, ongoing, controversial program that was the subject of intense political debate throughout Canada and in similar free and democratic nations throughout the world."

Having read Boissoin's letter repeatedly, I'm not convinced that it was intended to open any kind of debate. It's language is not that of discussion, but of absolutes. There is no room to negotiate with Boissoin's words. Worse, I think Chipeur is attempting to use a form of argument that is dishonest at best. He chooses not to acknowledge what Boissoin wrote, or that a young gay male in Red Deer was badly beaten within two weeks of Boissoin's letter being published. (Well within the time that the "debate" in the newspaper's "letter section" was no doubt going on) Instead, he claims that Boissoin was attempting to "engage in a debate". Last I checked, debate doesn't include declarations of "war".

I am surprised by the Alberta Government's comments on the matter:

David Kamal, constitutional lawyer for the Alberta Justice Department, an intervenor in the process, said freedom of expression is subject to limitations.

"If people are simply able to hide behind political or religious freedom, it defeats the purpose," Kamal argued.

"It's clear from case law that freedom of political expression and freedom of religious expression is bounded by limitation and protection of public safety, not that freedom of expression trumps any other right."

Considering the years-long arguments over Delwin Vriend's case in Alberta, this is almost a shock to see this kind of statement made by Alberta's Government lawyers. (Not that I believe for one minute that Stelmach is any more enlightened than his predecessor on such matters)

The real issue here is whether Boissoin's letter stepped over a boundary from legitimate discourse into 'promoting hatred'. Boissoin, in my view, stepped well over that line in two key respects. First, he called for "action" against homosexuals. By making it as ambiguous as he did, he clearly left the door open for the more pugilistic in our society to "take action" with their fists. Second, he made repeated and demonstrably false claims about homosexuals as if those claims were rooted in some kind of "fact". {No, Paul Cameron's research doesn't constitute 'fact' - it constitutes bad science}

Hopefully, we'll see a final ruling on this sometime in the fall. (Mid-September at the latest)


Anonymous said...

I am convinced that Boission's motivation was to create panic and hysteria which he could exploit to recruit memberships and cash donations for his Concerned Christians Coalition.

He must have been aware that homosexuals would be harmed by his actions. Yet, he had no hesitation in sacrificing the well-being and safety of that minority group in
his struggle for power.

Now, the question remains, will the Human Rights Panel also sacrifice the gay community to pacifying the reigh-wing of Alberta?

Grog said...

I'm not sure Boissoin is that bright. That suggests a subtlety of thought that I don't see in either his writing or actions.

I'm not sure that Alberta's HRC will rule in Boissoin's favor here - when Alberta Gov't lawyers are citing case law that limits freedom of speech and religion, that sends a pretty strong signal to the AHRC panel.

Anonymous said...

I think Boissoin's goal in this is to twist into the "persecuted christian" who is being silenced for preaching scripture. It is so plainly clear however, that his words have absolutely nothing to do with religion but to create hostility towards LGBT people. Deep down, I'm sure he knows this, but will never accept responsibility for his words or actions, not unlike the majority of the christianist community.