“If one, because of one’s sincerely held moral beliefs, whether it be Jew, Muslim, Christian, Catholic, opposes the idea of same-sex marriage in Canada, is that considered ‘hate’?”
The question was not rhetorical. Nor was it theoretical. Fr. Alphonse de Valk, a Basilian priest and pro-life activist known throughout Canada for his orthodoxy, is currently being investigated by the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) — a quasi-judicial investigative body with the power of the Canadian government behind it. The CHRC is using section 13 of Canada’s Human Rights Act to investigate the priest. This is a section under which no defendant has ever won once the allegation has gone to tribunal — the next stage of the process.
Most defendants end up paying thousands of dollars in fines and compensation. This is in addition to various court costs. Moreover, defendants are responsible for their own legal defense. In contrast, the commission provides free legal assistance to the complainant.
What was Father de Valk’s alleged ‘hate act’?
Father defended the Church’s teaching on marriage during Canada’s same-sex ‘marriage’ debate, quoting extensively from the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals. Each of these documents contains official Catholic teaching. And like millions of other people throughout the world and the ages – many of who are non-Catholics and non-Christians — Father believes that marriage is an exclusive union between a man and a woman.
The response from Mark van Dusen, a media consultant and spokesperson for CHRC, shocked me. I have interviewed van Dusen in the past and he has always struck me as an honest person willing to field tough questions on behalf of the commission. If he feels an accusation against the commission is hogwash, he states so plainly. If he feels the CHRC and its personnel are being unfairly tainted, he states so boldly.
Yet van Dusen did not dismiss the question out-of-hand as I thought he would. “We investigate complaints, Mr. Vere,” he said, “we don’t set public policy or moral standards. We investigate complaints based on the circumstances and the details outlined in the complaint. And …if…upon investigation, deem that there is sufficient evidence, then we may forward the complaint to the tribunal, but the hate is defined in the Human Rights Act under section 13-1.”
In other words, individual Jews, Muslims, Catholics and other Christians who, for reasons of conscience, hold to their faith’s traditional teaching concerning marriage, could very well be guilty of promoting hate in Canada. The same is true of any faith community in Canada that does not embrace this modern redefinition of one of the world’s oldest institutions — a redefinition that even the highly-secularist France rejects.
“Our job is to look at it, compare it to the act, to accumulated case law, tribunal and court decisions that have reflected on hate and decide whether to advance the complaint, dismiss it or whether there is room for a settlement between parties,” van Dusen continued. The truth of the CHRC considering adherence to Catholicism or Islam a possible hate crime was made real by van Dusen’s implicit admission that the commission could dismiss the complaint against Fr. De Valk. Over six months have passed since the commission first notified Father of the complaint. There has been no hint of the commission dropping the complaint.
Father de Valk publishes Catholic Insight, a Canadian magazine that “bases itself on the Church’s teaching and applies it to various circumstances in our time.” He is being accused by a homosexual activist of promoting “extreme hatred and contempt” against homosexuals.
Yet following the example of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XV, Father has stated on several occasions that we must love homosexuals and treat them with the dignity due every human person. “The basic view of the Church is that homosexual acts are a sin, but we love the sinner,” Father told me during an interview. “Opposing same-sex marriage is not the same as rejecting homosexuals as persons.” This is the deeply-held belief of orthodox Christians that is now considered a possible hate act warranting state intervention. This is what happens when government agencies broadly define homophobia as opposition to any homosexual act.
Yet the complaint against Father de Valk is just one of several in recent years that has been pursued against Christians by Canada’s human rights commissions. In 2005, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal fined a Knights of Columbus council over $1,000 dollars for declining to rent their hall to a couple for a lesbian marriage ceremony.
Five years previous, the Ontario Human Rights Commission fined Protestant printer Scott Brockie $5,000 for declining to print homosexual-themed stationary. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal fined Hugh Owens thousands of dollars for quoting a couple of Bible verses in a letter to the local newspaper. And Mayor Diane Haskett in London, Ontario, was fined $10,000 plus interest for declining to proclaim a gay pride day.
Nor have Canada’s bishops been spared. Bishop Fred Henry, one of Canada’s most outspoken defenders of the sanctity of life and marriage, was brought before a human rights commission for upholding Catholic moral teaching. While the complaint was ultimately withdrawn — not by the commission, but by the individual who originally filed the complaint — Bishop Henry incurred thousands of dollars of legal costs.
Thus Bishop Henry sympathizes with Father de Valk, who the bishop praises as a model of Catholic orthodoxy and fidelity to Christian teaching. “The social climate right now is that we’re into a new form of censorship and thought control, and the commissions are being used as thought police,” His Excellency states.
Additionally, a message posted to a popular Catholic internet forum has reportedly made its way before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal. The alleged poster, who is an American writing from America, was commenting on an article written by Mark Steyn — a Canadian author who now lives in New Hampshire. The tribunal accepted this posting as evidence that Steyn promoted “hatred”. While the website is never mentioned by name in news reports – referred to only as “a Catholic website” — a source at the tribunal told me, off-the-record, that the website was Catholic Answers.
While the claim is unconfirmed as of this writing, the controversial Mark Steyn article, over which the British Columbia hearing is being held, was posted to the Catholic Answers message forum. Moreoever, popular Jewish-Canadian blogger Ezra Levant, who is blogging live from the hearing, and who is the subject of his own human rights commission complaint, published a description of the unnamed Catholic forum. Several details match, including the screen names of two participants to the Catholic Answers forum discussion of Steyn’s article.
Imagine that! Canada’s human rights tribunals are now attempting to prosecute a case against an American resident, based upon what an American citizen allegedly posted to a mainstream American Catholic website. What passes for mainstream Catholic discussion in America is now the basis for a hate complaint in Canada.
Moreover, Christians in America are not immune from what is happening to their co-religionists across the border. This past April, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission ordered Elaine Huguenin, a self-employed Christian photographer, to pay a lesbian couple $6,600 for having declined to photograph their same-sex commitment ceremony. This fine and stress from the legal proceedings come at a time when Huguenin and her husband are expecting their first child.
The New Mexico commission ignored the fact that photography is a form of artistic expression. The state commission ignored the fact that the First Amendment protects individuals from compelled speech — that is, coercion from the state to give artistic expression that violates one’s most deeply held beliefs. The commission’s one-page ruling simply stated that Huguenin had “discriminated against [the lesbian complainant] because of sexual orientation.” As this New Mexico Human Rights Commission ruling shows, Americans are in grave danger of having their religious liberty ripped away from them by Canadian-style human rights commissions.