Hate speech in Canada
Religious hate speech.
Cases of religious hate speech
Religious hate speech:
Decades and centuries ago, religious freedom generally involved
believers seeking freedom for their religious beliefs. For example:
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.
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.
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:
||The freedom of believers to engage in religious hate speech attacking
lesbians, gays, bisexuals, abortion providers, etc.
||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.
||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
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:
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
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
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.
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.
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.
||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.|
||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
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.
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
However, the author is probably
immune from prosecution, for two reasons:
Even though quotations in various essays might inspire a felling of hatred
towards various groups, the author "...in good faith,...expressed or attempted to establish by
argument an opinion on a religious subject."
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."
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
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.
Randall Palmer, "Religious Hatred? Canadian Hate-Crimes Bill Sparks
Debate Over Bible, Koran," ABC News/Reuters, 2003-MAY-16, at:
"Make gay-bashing a hate crime, Robinson says," CTV.ca,
Austin Cline, "David Popescu: Homosexuals Should Be Executed," About,
"Citation 2006 SKCA 41," The Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan, 2006-APR-13,
http://www.ccrl.ca/ This is a PDF file.
Copyright © 2003 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update: 2009-AUG-10
Author: B.A. Robinson