Judge overturns hate ruling in Red Deer case, allows anti-gay remarks

Decision

By Deborah Tetley, Calgary Herald

Darren Lund (r) filed the complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission against former pastor Stephen Boissoin and the Concerned Christian Coalition over a letter attacking gays published in a Red Deer newspaper

Darren Lund (r) filed the complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission against former pastor Stephen Boissoin and the Concerned Christian Coalition over a letter attacking gays published in a Red Deer newspaper

CALGARY – Controversial remarks made about gays by a former youth pastor are "jarring, offensive, bewildering, puerile, nonsensical and insulting," but not hateful or extreme, a judge has ruled. It’s the latest decision in a long-running legal saga over a letter published in a central Alberta newspaper.

The judge’s decision to overturn an earlier human rights panel ruling was hailed as a "victory for all Albertans" on Thursday by the letter writer, Stephen Boissoin.

"This is an incredible victory for freedom of speech and for all Albertans who want to share their opinions on the social and moral issues of our day," said Boissoin.

He added he has no regrets about the letter, or the more than seven-year-long legal battle that ensued.

"Freedom of speech offends some people, and always will."

But the University of Calgary professor who launched the complaint against Boissoin, propelling the issue to a human rights panel and, ultimately, to the courts, is "deeply disappointed" with the ruling.

Darren Lund expressed concern for those belonging to "vulnerable groups" such as gays and lesbians, saying the ruling puts them at risk.

"If our human rights laws say that writing like this is OK, that is very detrimental to creating safe communities," said Lund, an associate professor in the faculty of education.

"We are trying to create inclusive communities and this takes away the tools at our disposal and puts very vulnerable people at greater risk."

Lund called the legislation weak.

"It makes you wonder what are the reasonable limits on hate speech in Alberta?"

Thursday’s judgment by Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Earl Wilson overturned a December 2007 ruling by a human rights panel, chaired by Lethbridge lawyer Lori Andreachuk.

Wilson ruled Andreachuk made many errors in her ruling and that her order for Boissoin to pay Lund $5,000 and to refrain from making "disparaging remarks" about gays was illegal and unenforceable.

The development marks another step in a saga that has lasted more than seven years and included a lawsuit and death threats against Lund, who is married with two children.

The 2002 letter by Boissoin, then a pastor in Red Deer, was titled Homosexual Agenda Wicked, and published in the Red Deer Advocate.

Boissoin wrote that "war has been declared" against the "homosexual machine" that led to children being taught it was OK for two men to kiss.

Boissoin accused gay activists of "spreading their psychological disease" and likened people who support gays to pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps.

The matter is resolved for Boissoin.

"I am overjoyed that this malicious and frivolous process is over," he said. "It’s been seven and a half years of my life being run through the mud. I’ve been called a bigot and a hate-monger. What a waste of time."

Lund hasn’t yet decided if he will launch an appeal.

dtetley@theherald.canwest.com.

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