I’ve written many times over the years about the case of Stephen Boissoin, a Canadian pastor who was brought up on charges of violating that nation’s hate speech laws for writing a letter to a newspaper condemning homosexuality. I actually didn’t know the case was still going on, but an appeals court in Alberta just handed down a ruling in his favor on those charges, saying that his statements did not violate the law.
You can read the full text of his letter in the ruling (PDF). It’s standard anti-gay rhetoric, full of idiotic and bigoted statements. But the court said, quite rightly, that it should not therefore be banned or provoke punishment:
A human rights tribunal held that a letter to the editor published in an Alberta daily newspaper exposed homosexuals to hatred or contempt, and directed remedies, including an order to cease and desist and an award of damages. On appeal, a Queen’s Bench judge set aside the tribunal’s finding. The judge held that while the language of the letter “may be jarring, offensive, bewildering, puerile, nonsensical and insulting”, it was not likely to expose homosexuals to hatred or contempt within the meaning of the Alberta statute. I agree that the letter is offensive; it is coarse, crude and insensitive. However, in my view, the letter constituted an expression of opinion that did not infringe the statute. For the reasons which follow, I would dismiss the appeal.
That’s the right result, but the law remains on the books and is still very corrosive of free speech. The law in Alberta says:
No person shall publish, issue or display or cause to be published, issued or displayed before the public any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that…is likely to expose a person or a class of persons to hatred or contempt.
This is astonishingly broad. Virtually any statement criticizing anyone at any time could be construed as exposing them to hatred or contempt. Hell, when I write about bigots saying bigoted things — people just like Boissoin — it is my entire goal to expose them to contempt. Contempt is exactly what they deserve. The job of the government is not to protect anyone from other people’s beliefs but only to protect them from their actions that harm them or violate their rights. These laws are a very bad idea and they should be eliminated entirely.