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Hate speech in Canada

Religious hate speech.
Cases of religious hate speech

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Religious hate speech:

Decades and centuries ago, religious freedom generally involved believers seeking freedom for their religious beliefs. For example:

bullet Jehovah's Witnesses wanted to follow Mark 16:15-16 by energetically proselytizing, converting people to their faith, while being free of government intrusion or limits.
bullet Quakers (members of the Society of Friends) wanted to follow Matthew 5:34 and avoid being required to swear oaths in contradiction of Jesus' specific teaching.
bullet Many Amish believers wanted to avoid having being photographed; some still do. They believed that the second of the Ten Commandment's (Exodus 20:4) prohibition of the making of all "graven images," included photographs.

There has been a shift in recent years. Now, religious freedom seems to be more often viewed as the freedom of believers to attack, denigrate or oppress others with hateful speech or hateful actions. Three examples are:

bullet The freedom of believers to engage in religious hate speech attacking lesbians, gays, bisexuals, abortion providers, etc.
bullet The freedom to withhold professional services from people because of religious beliefs. One example would be a conservative Christian physician in a fertility clinic refusing to treat a lesbian patient.
bullet The freedom to deny gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual (GLBT) services normally provided to the general public. One example is owner of a printing shop in Toronto, ON who refused to print letterhead for a GLBT-positive organization.

On a positive note, religiously motivated actions involving criminal acts -- common assault, aggravated assault, attempted murder, etc. appear to be stable in numbers, at least in the U.S.

Example 1: The Hugh Owens case:

One often quoted case involving freedom of religious hate speech in Canada surfaced during mid 1997. Hugh Owens, an evangelical Christian and corrections officer in Saskatchewan had taken out an anti-gay, religiously based advertisement in a local newspaper, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. 1 Below is part of a page of the Ottawa Citizen newspaper that replicates the advertisement:

The Hugh Owens case was not directly related to the hate propaganda section of the criminal code, Section 319. Even though hate speech targeting persons based on "sexual orientation" is part of section 319, he was immune from prosecution under the criminal code because 319 contains an exemption for hate speech that is closely tied to a religious belief. (Newspaper advertisement are regarded as a form of speech). The charge against him was actually laid under a provincial human rights code.

His ad consisted of:

bullet A simple list of citations of Bible passages -- not including texts --  which religious conservatives commonly quote when attacking equal rights for persons who engage in same-sex behavior. They are often referred to as "clobber passages." The four citations listed were:
bullet Romans 1:26: Many conservative Judeo-Christians view this verse as condemning same-sex sexual behavior, whether performed by men or women. Others interpret it as condemning heterosexuals if they violate their basic nature by engaging in same-sex behavior.
bullet Leviticus 18:22: Most conservative Judeo-Christians view this verse as condemning all same-sex sexual behavior by men. Others interpret it as condemning gay sex if performed on a woman's bed, or if performed as part of ritual sex in pagan temple.
bullet Leviticus 20:13:  This is similar to the previous verse in Leviticus except that it calls for the slow and very painful execution by stoning of both parties.
bullet 1 Corinthians 6:9-12: Most conservative Judeo-Christians view this verse as condemning all same-sex sexual behavior. Others interpret it as condemning adult males engaging in sexual abuse of boys, and the boys that they molest.
bullet To the right of the list was a symbol consisting of two male stick figures holding hands, a diagonal slash, and a red circle -- the international symbol indicating prohibition.
bullet A note at the bottom of the ad stated that a the advertisement was available for sale in bumper sticker format.

Three local gays, Gens Hellquist, Jason Roy, and Jeff Dodds found the reference in Leviticus 20:13 to be particularly offensive because, in the common English translations of the Bible, the verse calls for a slow, painful, lingering execution for homosexuals.

They filed complaints with the provincial Human Rights Commission, naming both Hugh Owens and  Sterling Newspapers Company -- the operator of The StarPhoenix -- as respondents..

The Commission found that: "... a Biblical passage in Leviticus 'exposes homosexuals to hatred'," when it was used in conjunction with the prohibition symbol. 2 Owens was ordered to pay $1,500 to each of the three respondents, and to not display the bumper sticker version of the ad.

Owens unsuccessfully appealed the decision to the Court of Queen's Bench.

He finally appealed that court's decision to The Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan. 3

The higher court concluded that the guarantee of freedom of religion in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is very broad. It is only when "extreme feelings and strong emotions of detestation, calumny and vilification" are involved that freedom of religious speech can be limited. They concluded that referring to a same-sex relationships as requiring a biblically mandated slow painful lingering death by stoning, followed by an eternity being tortured in Hell does not meet that standard -- particularly in view of so many interpretations of these four verses that have the messages of the verses unrelated to loving, committed same-sex relationships.

Owens' appeal was allowed; the Court of Appeal's decision was overturned. More details on this case.

Example 2: This essay:

This essay contains an image of the advertisement ruled to be hate literature because it combined an offensive symbol with a list of biblical verses. The essay also contains a quotation from a Bible verse that could be considered as inciting hatred against gays -- at least those gays who sometimes engage in anal intercourse. Other essays cite other religious hatred on a wide variety of topics, from interpretations of other clobber passages in the Bible to citing calls for genocide against Neopagans.

However, the author is probably immune from prosecution, for two reasons:

bullet Even though quotations in various essays might inspire a felling of hatred towards various groups, the author " good faith,...expressed or attempted to establish by argument an opinion on a religious subject."
bullet Also, the author described material that might generate feelings of hatred for an identifiable group "for the purpose of removal" of that hatred.

Example 3: The David Popescu case:

On 2009-AUG-07, David Popescu, 61, of Sudbury, ON is a fundamentalist Christian and an independent candidate for Parliament. He was convicted of promoting hatred when he told a group of high school students in Greater Sudbury that homosexuals should be executed.  He later repeated the comments when interviewed on a Toronto radio station, saying:

"A young man asked me what I think of homosexual marriages and I said I think homosexuals should be executed. My whole reason for running is the Bible and the Bible couldn't be more clear on that point." 3

His reference to execution appears to involve Leviticus 20:13.

Popescu justified his comment in court, again arguing that he was only repeating what was in the Bible.

Ontario Court Justice Guy Mahaffy ruled that he was:

"... not at all satisfied with the explanation by Mr. Popescu that his statements are based on his religious beliefs. ... [Popescu] basically picks and chooses what is in his best interest, according to his interpretation of the Bible. ... Popescu has clothed his disgraceful attitude to this community of people (gays and lesbians) in a religious context and in my view should not be allowed." 4

Popescu was found guilty and given an 18 month suspended sentence.

In Canada, Section 319 of the Criminal Code states that a person cannot be convicted of uttering public hate speech if, "in good faith, he expressed or attempted to establish by argument an opinion on a religious subject." Popescu seems to have been convicted under Section 318 because the judge did not believe that Popescu was expressing his homophobic views in good faith, or did not base them on his religious beliefs.

He might have been charged under Section 318 which covers advocacy of genocide against persons on the basis of sexual orientation. If found guilty, he could have been given a five year sentence.

Of course, an 18 month suspended sentence and a five year suspended sentence amount to the same thing.

References used:

  1. Randall Palmer, "Religious Hatred? Canadian Hate-Crimes Bill Sparks Debate Over Bible, Koran," ABC News/Reuters, 2003-MAY-16, at:
  2. "Make gay-bashing a hate crime, Robinson says,", 2003-MAY-16, at:
  3. Austin Cline, "David Popescu: Homosexuals Should Be Executed," About, 2008-OCT-13, at:
  4. "Citation 2006 SKCA 41," The Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan, 2006-APR-13, at: This is a PDF file.

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Copyright 2003 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-AUG-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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