Pro-family groups still hoping to defeat Bill C-250
By David F. Dawes
CONTROVERSIAL legislation dealing with homosexuality has been postponed yet again, prompting conservative pro-family groups to make last-ditch efforts to defeat it.
Bill C-250, proposed by openly gay NDP MP Svend Robinson, would add "sexual orientation" to two sections of the Criminal Code dealing with hate propaganda. The law currently protects victims of hatred based on race, colour, religion or ethnicity.
Robinson's bill was passed by parliament last September, and then sent to the Senate. The Senate was scheduled to vote on it in late March, but two amendments were introduced April 1; shortly after, the Senate adjourned for its Easter break. The next debate on the bill is scheduled for April 20.
"We are thankful for the delay -- and hopefully, the complete failure of Bill C-250," declares Brian Rushfeldt, executive director of the Canada Family Action Coalition (CFAC). "Freedom of speech and religion have not yet been oppressed by Bill C-250, and we remain optimistic . . . If the Prime Minister calls an election before [April 20], the bill would die. But we need to continue the pressure until we win this fully."
According to Canadian Catholic News, Robinson has addressed concerns that the bill could be used against people who oppose homosexuality on religious grounds. He insists that Bill C-250 "in no way limits or threatens the freedom of religious expression or religious texts," adding: "No person shall be convicted of an offence . . . if, in good faith, he expressed or attempted to establish by argument an opinion on a religious subject."
Rushfeldt maintains that, in addition to stifling Bible-based disapproval of homosexuality, Bill C-250 "will gag the defence of traditional marriage." The bill, he asserts, "would make it a criminal offence to oppose homosexual behaviour . . . [It] is an oppressive and draconian piece of criminal legislation that would severely limit free speech and freedom of religion in our nation. It has fundamental constitutional flaws. Criminal legislation should never be imposed with flaws."
He is urging CFAC supporters to phone various senators. They are also calling for opponents of the bill to email Prime Minister Paul Martin. "Let him know [that] passing Bill C 250 will be an election issue -- that voters across Canada will be reminded of the Liberal support for this oppressive legislation."
REAL Women of Canada expressed concerns about the bill in a full-page ad in the National Post March 17. The ad stated: "Publicly expressing or publishing moral objections towards homosexual conduct and practices, publicly expressing an opinion on the Svend Robinson homosexual political agenda such as homosexual marriage, [and] expressing an opinion on the health risks of certain homosexual behaviours could be a criminal offence" under the legislation. The group is urging opponents of the bill to go to a website aimed at lobbying the senators.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has expressed similar concerns, stating: "What troubles us is the possibility that someone who finds the expression of the beliefs of the Catholic Church on the sexual conduct of homosexual persons too blunt or too harsh will invoke the Criminal Code to silence the teaching." The CCCB adds: "We are aware that the supporters of this bill suggest that this concern is without legal foundation -- but, given the challenges to religious freedom in the last few years, we are not willing to rely on these assurances."
For its part, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has stated: "We are all appalled by hate-motivated attacks and believe that promoting hatred towards any person or group is wrong. So why should this legislation concern us? Because the term 'sexual orientation' does not distinguish between the 'person' and the 'sexual activity.' As such, we are very concerned that you could be accused of promoting hatred if you publicly express your moral views on, for instance, homosexual activity. We are also concerned that parts of the Bible could be labeled hate literature."
According to LifeSiteNews.com, opponents of the bill were given short shrift by the senate committee during recent hearings on the bill. The website states: "Brian Rushfeldt . . . noted that while homosexual activist groups were granted ample time to present to the Senate Committee, CFAC and several other pro-family groups were put together on one panel and each given only five minutes to voice their objections." Consequently, the website warns, "the dangerous legislation -- which would put the full weight of launching criminal investigations into the hands of homosexual activists intent on silencing their opposition -- is set to be passed on an unsuspecting public."
Focus on the Family also has a web page with information designed to help concerned individuals take action.
In May 2003, Focus made a presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, stating: "Even the sponsor of the bill concedes that statistics on hate crimes directed at gays and lesbians are scarce . . . What little evidence that has been presented has generally been based on anecdotal experiences and actual acts of violence, not hate propaganda. It seems the only potential example of hate propaganda directed at homosexuals that the Bill's sponsor presented to this committee is an American citizen, Fred Phelps, who has not been in Canada for a number of years and who has been denounced by our organization and many others." (Phelps is a Kansas preacher who has been widely reviled for picketing the funerals of gays, carrying signs with messages such as 'God hates fags.')
Focus added: "Given that current laws prohibit actual acts of violence against homosexuals, and given the lack of substantial evidence that hate propaganda targeting homosexuals exists in Canada, it would be improper to enact legislation that has the potential to seriously restrict freedom of speech . . . Bill C-250 and the sections of the Criminal Code it amends contain terms that are ambiguous and unclear -- thus putting Canadians in a position where they will not know with certainty what restrictions, if any, are being placed on their freedom of expression and religious freedom."
The presentation concluded: "All Canadians deserve clear protection from real and serious threats of harm and acts of violence. Bill C-250 unfortunately fails to offer this protection, and yet poses the very real risk of endangering the freedom of expression of many Canadians who are a credit to our society."