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Canadian hate speech, based on sexual orientation

 2004: Bill C-250 becomes law.
Reactions to the bill & law.

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Bill C-250 becomes law:

Some propaganda, including genocide advocacy, directing hatred against persons of any sexual orientation -- heterosexuals, homosexuals and/or bisexuals -- is now a crime in Canada. Sexual orientation now joins four other groups protected against hate speech on the basis of their "color, race, religion or ethnic origin." 1

However, a "not withstanding" clause specifically allows religiously motivated hate speech.

The bill was given royal assent by the Queen's representative in Canada on 2004-APR-29. It is now part of the legal code of Canada, and took immediate effect. .


Reactions to the bill at various stages:

Sponsor Svend Robinson of the New Democratic Party (Socialist) commented at the time the bill was proposed:

"It's a bill that recognizes that when hate crimes are perpetrated in this country against those who are of a minority religion or race or ethnic origin or color, that Canada says this is wrong. But there's one group in the country and that is gays and lesbians -- the group that has more hate crimes, more violence perpetrated against it [per capita] -- that isn't included in the hate propaganda laws." 2

The legislation was strongly opposed by religious conservatives. They warned that Christian pastors, Jewish rabbis, Muslim Imams, or other religious leaders could find themselves in jail if they were to preach that homosexuality is evil or sinful. They suggest that the Bible, Torah, and/or Qur'an might be confiscated as hate literature. This is most unlikely. Section 319, that this bill amends, already contains a "not withstanding" clause which prevents prosecution of individuals for religiously motivated hate speech. Thus, if a person referred to passages in a Bible or any other religious text during the presentation of hate speech, then they could not be prosecuted under the law. 

Vic Toews of Canada's extreme right-wing party, the Canadian Alliance, said: ''I'm concerned about the chilling effect of this kind of decision.'' 3 [The Canadian Alliance now forms part of the Conservative Party.]

Robinson denied that the bill would inhibit normal religious speech when it denigrates gays and lesbians. He told the House of Commons Committee on Justice and Human Rights when they were examining the bill:

''There's not an attorney general in the country anywhere at any level who would consent to the prosecution of an individual for quoting from the Bible. An attorney general who tried something like that would be run out of town on a rail.'' 2

He said that the Progressive Conservatives, New Democratic Party and Bloc Quebeois members support the bill, but that the extreme right-wing Canadian Alliance does not. He said that the Alliance has "...opposed every equality bill that's come before the House for gays and lesbians."

Inspector David Jones of the Vancouver Police Department told The Canadian Press that he believes being gay puts people at an added risk on the streets. He said: "Sixty-two per cent of the violence is based on sexual orientation. That points to the need to protect these people." Jones also referred to the murder of Aaron Webster, a 41-year-old photographer, who was assumed to be gay and was beaten to death on 2001-NOV-17, in Stanley Park in Vancouver BC. 3

Actually, bill C-250 will do little to protect gays and lesbians from gay bashing, It is a hate speech law, not a hate crimes law. However, it is possible that it might lessen the hate rhetoric directed against all sexual minorities that might eventually lower the frequency of hate-motivated physical assaults and other crimes.

John Fisher, spokesperson for the gay-rights lobby group Egale testified that ''the legislation as it stands, by being under-inclusive, by failing to protect a group equally needing protection, is unconstitutional.''  He suggested that if the law were not amended that the courts would eventually modify the law by reading "sexual orientation" into the legislation as a protected class.

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Reaction to the bill as it was discussed and passed in Parliament:

Both religious and social conservatives condemned the bill:

bullet Focus on the Family, Canada issued a news release which stated that they:

"...and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, among other groups, believe the law may be used to silence those with religious views on the morality of homosexual behaviours. 'We do not condone, in any way, the promotion of hatred against anyone or any group,' said Bruce Clemenger, president of the EFC. 'However, the ambiguity of what this bill will capture may well silence what otherwise would be legitimate public comment on issues of sexual morality'."

bullet The Vancouver Sun reported that bill C-250:

"... has been described by some Alliance MPs and religious groups as a 'fascist' measure that could criminalize anyone for reading quotes on homosexuality from the Bible or the Koran [sic]." 4

The individuals making these comments seem to be either deceitful or misinformed, because there are two passages in the Criminal Code that specifically allow religious individuals to continually to legally engage in hate propaganda against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. However, some clergypersons may remain unfamiliar with the details of the bill and tone down their rhetoric, not realizing that their hate speech is still permitted on religious grounds.

bullet Brian Rushfeldt of the Canada Family Action Coalition said:

"Canadians who are speaking out against the redefinition of marriage are already being accused of 'hate' speech by homosexual activists...When C-250 is passed into law later this fall, the activists will begin to insist on prosecution to silence their critics with criminal sanctions." 4

This also appears to be either deceitful or misinformed. Section 309 already contains a passage that protects a person from prosecution if their statements are relevant to any subject of public interest, and if, on reasonable grounds, the person believes them to be true. His prophecy turned out to be groundless.

bullet Svend Robinson commented that these criticisms are unfounded. He said:

"The suggestion that including gays and lesbians in a law that protects against violence and hatred would touch religious beliefs and the right to quote from the Bible is utterly without foundation. What this bill is about is sending a message to the gay bashers, it's about sending a message to those who promote hatred, and violence and even death of gay men." 4

bullet Canadian Alliance Member of Parliament James Moore said:

"There's a lot of distrust in general towards the judiciary right now, and it's leading a lot of people to be very fearful of giving powers to the judiciary that aren't necessarily defined specifically with regard to religious tolerance and religious freedom." 4

bullet Leader of the Canadian Alliance, Stephen Harper said that he was "encouraged" by some amendments to the bill, which he feels gives significant protection to religious freedom. But he remains opposed to C-250 because

"homosexuality is such an inherently controversial issue there is a danger that this could have, if not tightly defined, very wide implications." 4

This comment may be a reference to a definition of the term "sexual orientation" which is held by some conservative Christians. The vast majority of legislators, gays, lesbians, religious liberals, human sexuality researchers, mental health therapists, etc. define sexual orientation in terms of the gender of the persons to which an individual is sexually attracted. A person is either a heterosexual, homosexual ,bisexual, or asexual depending upon whether they are sexually attracted only to persons of the opposite sex, only to the same sex, to both sexes or to neither sex. A few fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian groups define the term differently. They include pedophilia, hebephilia. ephebophilia, necrophilia,, incest, and other sexual crimes as additional sexual orientations. Under their definition, protecting persons of all sexual orientations against hate crimes and hate speech would protect sexual criminals from prosecution and criticism. More info.

bullet On 2003-SEP-23, six days after the bill was passed in Parliament, Focus on the Family Canada featured a discussion of C-250 in their "Today's Family News." They mentioned:
bullet Bruce Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada said that protecting persons of all sexual orientations from hate propaganda is certain to have a "chilling" effect on people of faith. Speaking before the Calgary Evangelical Ministerial Association in Calgary AB, he predicted that the courts will eventually have to rule on where legitimate religious teaching on sexual orientation leaves off and hate propaganda begins. According to the Calgary Herald, Clemenger said: "Whether this law leads to the prosecution of religious groups or not, it's almost certain to have a chilling effect. Will the Gideons still be allowed to place Bibles in motel rooms?"
bullet John McKay, a Liberal member of parliament (MP), calls C-250 the "chill bill...Anybody who has views on homosexuality that differ from Svend Robinson's will be exposed rather dramatically to the joys of the Criminal Code."
bullet Vic Toews, a Canadian Alliance MP and justice critic said that Svend Robinson had put: "the jackboot of fascism on the necks of our people with Bill C-250."
bullet Derek Rogusky, vice-president of family policy for Focus on the Family Canada  said on CBC Newsworld that: "We've seen through the courts that when religious freedom comes up against gay rights, that in fact religious freedom tends to be more often than not the loser in those particular cases."
bullet The Family Research Council (FRC) published a surprisingly inaccurate article in their Washington Update news release, titled "Canadians Make Free Speech a Crime." They wrote: "Just north of us in Canada, the parliament passed Bill C-250 last week, making it a crime for anyone to publicly criticize homosexuality. Known as the 'chill bill,' the law makes it illegal to advocate traditional Christian opposition to homosexual sex. The quoting of Scripture will soon be hate speech." 5

Nowhere in the Focus or FRC articles did they mention the two subsections in the bill that give immunity from prosecution to speakers and writers of religiously-based racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and some other forms of hate speech. 6 One indication that these fears are unfounded is that thirteen years after the bill was signed into law, there have been no prosecutions of religiously-based hate propaganda.

bullet The 2004-MAY issue of ChristianCurrent discussed the bill in an article titled "Svend's Folly." ChristianCurrent is a conservative Christian monthly magazine distributed free through churches and conservative Christian book stores. They commented on bill C-250 which they said: "...may make it a crime to read certain Bible passages in public." 7

To their credit, they did say "may."

Our frustration boileth over:

We don't intend to continually blast social and religious conservative information sources for inaccuracy. However, we have been unable to find even one of these sources that gives a full and accurate description of what bill C-250 really says.

Perhaps, after the passage of time, when people realize that the fears propagated by these news sources never materialized and that nobody was ever charged with religious hate speech against lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, some news sources will revisit this topic and present an accurate picture of the law.

As I wrote these last two paragraphs, 13 years have passed without conservative fears having materialized. Criticism of the bill seems to have evaporated.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Hate propaganda: Advocating genocide," Criminal Code of Canada, at:
  2. "Make gay-bashing a hate crime, Robinson says,", 2003-MAY-16, at:
  3. Randall Palmer, "Canadian hate-crimes bill sparks Bible, Koran row," MSNBC News, 2003-MAY-16, at:
  4. Peter O'Neil, "Homosexuals to be covered by anti-hate legislation. 'Fascist' bill passes Commons, 141-110," The Vancouver Sun, 2003-SEP-18, at:
  5. "Canadians Make Free Speech a Crime," Family Research Council, Washington Update, 2004-APR-29.
  6. "Anti-hate law will have 'chilling effect'," Today's Family News, Focus on the Family, Canada, 2003-SEP-23.
  7. "Svend's folly," Christian Current, 2004-MAY, Page 2.

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Copyright 2003 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2017-JUL-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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