Sunday, September 20, 2009

Left and Right on the State of Human Rights in Alberta

A few years back, but in this century, an Alberta religious man wrote a letter to the editor that an Alberta newspaper printed. An Alberta educator took offense at the reverend's letter, and filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The complaint was filed against the reverend, but not against the newspaper. The educator's complaint resulted in a ruling by the AHRC that the reverend pay a fine to the educator and to a witness, and that the reverend cease sharing or publishing his religious views, or any disparaging comments against his accusers, for life.

Much is available online about this particular case, "Lund vs. Boissoin", including the entire text of the original letter by Boissoin, the AHRC ruling / remedy against the reverend, Lund's views and opinions, the public reaction & outcry on both sides of this issue on various blogs, and a plethora of comments on websites.

In July 2009, the reverend filed an appeal against the AHRC ruling. There are a few recent items of interest to those who are following both the public debate about human rights legislation and this appeal before the Court of Queen's Bench, in Alberta:

1. An editorial in the Calgary Herald, "Alberta Must Amend Human Rights Act"
2. An article on CBC News, "Anti-gay letter is free speech, lawyer argues"
3. Slade's article in the National Post, "Pastor who condemned gays takes on rights tribunal"
4. Slade's article in the Calgary Herald, "Former pastor appeals sanctions for letter attacking gays"
5. The full legal brief presented Sept 16 & 17, 2009, on Stephen Boissoin's website

Readers are encouraged to make up their own minds about the presence and possibility for Free Speech in Alberta "no matter who is doing the speaking". If I am missing key documents, newspaper articles, etc., from either side of this debate, please pass along the URLs in the comments section.

As this debate heats up, my questions are: Who IS free to speak their minds in Alberta, what are they allowed to say, which media / forms are they able and allowed to use to express their ideas and opinions, and Who gets to decide? What proportion of
Albertans are content to leave it to the government to decide what and whose opinions, which and whose ideas and what forms of expression, and what media and methods, are acceptable forms of discourse in a democratic society?

I hope that as this appeal of an Alberta Human Rights Commission decision makes its way through the legal system that, (1) Albertans will engage in active and public debate about the status and extent of free speech and freedom of expression in our province, (2) that awareness of the Alberta Human Rights Commission and their decisions increases, along with accountability, and (3)
that Albertans will voice their opinions to government about the nature and extent of Human Rights legislation that they want and need in order to participate fully in a democratic society.

Who gets to decide? We do.

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