Hate speech in Canada
Bill C-250 becomes law. Reactions to the bill & law.
Bill C-250 becomes law:
The bill was given royal assent by the Queen's representative in Canada
on 2004-APR-29. It took immediate effect. It is now part of the legal code
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
However, a "not withstanding" clause allows religiously motivated hate speech.
Reactions to the bill at various stages:
Sponsor Svend Robinson 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,
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
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
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 changed that the courts
would eventually modify the law by reading "sexual orientation" into the
legislation as a protected
Reaction to the bill as it was discussed and passed in Parliament:
Both religious and social conservatives condemned the bill:
|Focus on the Family, Canada issued a news release which stated
"...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'."
|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." 4
The individuals making these
comments seem to be either deceitful or misinformed, because, as soon as
the bill is given royal assent, there will be 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.
|Brian Rushfeldt of the Canada Family Action Coalition said: |
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."
This also appears to be 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.
|Svend Robinson has said that these criticisms are unfounded.|
"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."
|Canadian Alliance Member of Parliament James Moore said:|
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
|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 |
is such an inherently controversial issue there is a danger that this
could have, if not tightly defined, very wide implications."
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 or bisexual, depending upon
whether they are sexually attracted only to persons of the opposite sex, only
to the same sex, or to both sexes. A few fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian
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.
|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:|
|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?" |
|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
|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." |
|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."|
|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."
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 five years after the bill was signed into law, there have been no
prosecutions of religiously based hate propaganda.
|The 2004-MAY issue of ChristianCurrent
discussed the bill in an article titled "Svend's Folly." This 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."
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, a half-decade has passed without
conservative fears having materialized. Perhaps in another half-decade either
these religious information sources will start being accurate, or risk losing
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Hate propaganda: Advocating genocide," Criminal Code of Canada, at:
- "Make gay-bashing a hate crime, Robinson says," CTV.ca,
- Randall Palmer, "Canadian hate-crimes bill sparks Bible, Koran row,"
MSNBC News, 2003-MAY-16, at:
- Peter O'Neil, "Homosexuals to be covered by anti-hate legislation.
'Fascist' bill passes Commons, 141-110," The Vancouver Sun, 2003-SEP-18,
- "Canadians Make Free Speech a Crime," Family Research Council,
Washington Update, 2004-APR-29.
- "Anti-hate law will have 'chilling effect'," Today's Family News,
Focus on the Family, Canada, 2003-SEP-23.
- "Svend's folly," Christian Current, 2004-MAY, Page 2.
Copyright © 2003 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update: 2011-SEP-20
Author: B.A. Robinson