Rev. Stephen Boissoin vindicated

I know there is a lot of interest around these parts in the role of Canada’s Human Rights Commissions and Canada’s hate speech laws. Personally, I’m always a tad ashamed of the way Canada can be so scared of speech, and I’m always happy when that fear is appropriately slapped down.

Stephen Boissoin, prominent bigot and free speech martyr, has finally been afforded the same protection in regards to freedom of expression that all Canadians deserve. Here’s National Post‘s Jonathan Kay:

There is no denying that Stephen Boissoin of Red Deer, Alta. scores low on the free-to-be-you-and-me scale. In a notorious June 17, 2002 letter to the Red Deer Advocate, he excoriated the “homosexual machine” and “militant homosexual agenda” that, in his opinion, was spreading “all manner of wickedness” in Canadian society. He ended with a call to moral arms, urging “Mr. and Mrs. Heterosexual” to “start taking back what the enemy has taken from you.”

In other words, it was more or less a standard-issue manifesto from a Christian culture warrior, setting out a doctrinaire version of the Biblical view of homosexuality as a grave sin. The language is creaky and old-fashioned — and perhaps even bigoted to modern ears. Yet it encapsulates the way that millions of religiously observant Canadians feel about the subject. And, as Alberta’s Court of Appeal affirmed this week, he should have every right to say it.

Unfortunately, it has taken Mr. Boissoin a full decade to vindicate his rights. And during this time, he has endured a Kafkaesque ordeal.

You don’t have sympathize with Rev. Boissoin to object to the persecution he suffered. Read the whole thing.

Jonathan McLeod

Jonathan McLeod is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. (That means Canada.) He spends too much time following local politics and writing about zoning issues. Follow him on Twitter.


  1. What a horror.
    In the US, our rights of free speech were defined in various cases, Virginia v. Black being the one that defined ‘true threat,’ ie ‘political hyperbole’ is protected.
    From Justice O’Connor’s opinion:

    “True threats” encompass those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals. See Watts v. United States, supra, at 708 (“political hyperbole” is not a true threat); R. A. V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U. S., at 388. The speaker need not actually intend to carry out the threat. Rather, a prohibition on true threats “protect[s] individuals from the fear of violence” and “from the disruption that fear engenders,” in addition to protecting people “from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur.” Ibid. Intimidation in the constitutionally proscribable sense of the word is a type of true threat, where a speaker directs a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death. Respondents do not contest that some cross burnings fit within this meaning of intimidating speech, and rightly so. As noted in Part II, supra, the history of cross burning in this country shows that cross burning is often intimidating, intended to create a pervasive fear in victims that they are a target of violence. . . .

    The First Amendment permits Virginia to outlaw cross burnings done with the intent to intimidate because burning a cross is a particularly virulent form of intimidation. Instead of prohibiting all intimidating messages, Virginia may choose to regulate this subset of intimidating messages in light of cross burning’s long and pernicious history as a signal of impending violence. Thus, just as a State may regulate only that obscenity which is the most obscene due to its prurient content, so too may a State choose to prohibit only those forms of intimidation that are most likely to inspire fear of bodily harm. A ban on cross burning carried out with the intent to intimidate is fully consistent with our holding in R. A. V. and is proscribable under the First Amendment.

    Not so easy to sympathize with cross-burners, but the implications are far-reaching.

  2. I utterly disagree that he’s a martyr. A martyr is one who suffers for a righteous cause. The cause of being able to incite hate against people in print is not a righteous one.

    But rights and liberties aren’t just to protect the people everyone likes and agrees with; they’re to protect the people and forms of speech that are despised. So it’s a good ruling.

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