May 5, 2003
Justice and Human Rights Standing Committee Room 622, 180 Wellington Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Dear Committee Members:
I am writing in support of Bill C-250, MP Svend Robinson’s Private Member’s Bill, which, if approved by Parliament, would make illegal hate propaganda directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Canadians. I urge you to recommend to Parliament that Canada’s Criminal Code be amended to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground under Canada’s hate propaganda legislation.
Every day in Canada, LGBT people are at risk of being verbally harassed, physically assaulted and discriminated against because of their actual or perceived sexual and/or gender orientation. Sometimes, this violence is extreme and culminates in murder. In November 2001, Aaron Webster was brutally murdered in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. Police believe the perpetrators beat Webster to death because he was gay. On December 4 2002, the badly beaten body of Christopher Raynsford was discovered in his Ottawa apartment. It appears Raynsford was also murdered because he was a gay man. Transgendered persons are also targeted for violence and murder. In February 2002, Faye Urry, a transsexual sex worker, was murdered in Prince George, British Columbia. Her body was discovered in the Town’s industrial area.
Verbal abuse, whether it is taunts, epithets, or threats, often precede episodes of anti-LGBT violence. In fact, verbal abuse is the best predictor of the physical violence that LGBT people are subjected to based on their sexual and/or gender orientation. This fact points to the urgency of Bill C-250, which would make illegal the promotion of hatred against LGBT Canadians and, in so doing, save many innocent lives.
Under current Federal legislation it is illegal to incite hatred on the basis of race, religion, colour and ethnic origin but not sexual orientation. In the absence of prohibitions under law, incitements to hatred against LGBT Canadians are able to flourish with few, if any, real consequences for the perpetrators. In fact, the absence of Canadian law that prohibits the promotion of LGBT hate propaganda lends license to the perpetrators of such abuse both within and outside our borders.
Consider the tactics and website (www.godhatesfags.com) of American Fred Phelps, the so-called “Reverend” of the Westboro Baptist Church. Phelps and his followers routinely picket the funerals of LGBT people with signs that read “God Hates Fags”, “AIDS Cures Fags”, and “No Fags in Heaven”, to name but a few. Phelps’ website features a “memorial” to Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming youth who was savagely tortured and murdered in 1998 because he was gay. The website features a photograph of Shepard burning in the fires of hell and stating the number of days he has supposedly been in hell since his murder.
Canadian police have been unable to do anything to prevent Phelps and his congregation from entering Canada and inciting hatred against LGBT Canadians.
A 1999 visit to Ottawa by some of Phelps’ followers prompted this response from Sergeant Pat Callaghan of the Ottawa-Carleton Police Hate Crimes Unit:
“If this was done against a Catholic, a Jew or a black person, charges could be laid. If we had that legislation, we wouldn’t have to put up with his nonsense…We could have told him, ‘if you show up and start spreading this hate, we’ll arrest you’.” (The Globe and Mail – June 25, 1999)
A Criminal Code amendment would allow Police the ability to charge and arrest people, like Phelps, who incite hatred against LGBT people. One bystander to the Phelps’ demonstration in Ottawa had this to say:
“In Canada you can be whatever you want… I don’t like it that (they) can come into our quiet little community and spread their hatred.” (The Data Lounge – August 2, 1999)
Critics of Bill C-250 claim that religious teaching and expression would be severely curtailed if the Criminal Code were amended. This argument is patently false. The fact is that religious freedom and expression are protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Furthermore, the Supreme Court of Canada has established strict criteria for the prosecution of suspected hate crimes. For example, before prosecution of offences can proceed, the Supreme Court requires the consent of the Attorney General of the province in which the alleged hate crime has occurred. The Supreme Court criteria also ensure that prosecution of suspected hate crimes occur only when the situation is serious enough to warrant such intervention.
Protecting LGBT Canadians from hate propaganda has gained widespread support. In 2001, Canada’s provincial and territorial Attorney’s General urged the Federal Government to implement legislation to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground under Federal hate propaganda legislation. In the words of Alberta Attorney General, Dave Hancock:
“I support the hate crime legislation which prohibits people from spewing hate against anybody for any reason. There are appropriate ways to discuss issues in our country…and you don’t need to put forward hateful literature. It doesn’t matter what you believe about sexual orientation.” (Calgary Sun – November 29, 2001)
All Canadians want to ensure their communities are safe and peaceful. Public displays, such as Phelps’, are disruptive to the community and jeopardize the safety of all citizens. As elected Members of Parliament you have a duty to ensure the safety of all citizens including LGBT Canadians. Therefore, it is imperative that you recommend to Parliament the passage of Bill C-250 to make illegal the promotion of hatred based on sexual orientation.
National President Canadian Union of Public Employees
/opeiu 491 c.c: C. Gnreux; M. Ballantyne; B. Pegler; S. Cathcart; S. Robinson, MP’s; Senators