Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of July 14, 2008)

First they came for the Pastor


  By John Martin

The controversy from the B.C. Human Rights case against Maclean's magazine and Mark Steyn had barely subsided when the tribunal decided to go after comedian Guy Earle for allegedly offending a couple of lesbians heckling him during a comedy show in a Vancouver restaurant.

Most commentators have rightly pointed out that hecklers voluntarily insert themselves into the show and should expect a rough ride; even a rude one.  It's also been correctly noted that something has gone terribly wrong for the state to even think it has the moral authority to scrutinize a comedian's act.

But one area that hasn't been discussed much is what can a human rights tribunal actually do to people they convict. Indeed, Guy Earle even asked me the worst-case scenario in the event he's found guilty, as he almost certainly will be.

The actual remedies in the country's various human rights legislation tend to be vague and open to a range of possibilities. To give an idea of what could very likely be in store for Earle, a recent case in Alberta may provide some insight.

Reverend Stephen Boissoin, a pastor and youth worker, had a letter published in the Red Deer Advocate that was found to have exposed homosexuals to "hatred and contempt." He was ordered to pay the complainant $5,000 plus expenses. He was also instructed to publish an apology. We can't make Clifford Olsen or Paul Bernardo apologize but the human rights bodies can demand a pastor do so.

Most disturbing though, he was ordered to "cease publishing in newspapers, by e-mail, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the Internet, in future, disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals."

The dictionary definition of "disparaging" is "to speak of in a slighting or disrespectful way." The pastor is not specifically barred from communicating hate speech; he must never communicate anything disrespectful about gays. This is a lifetime ban that even covers private e-mails. Anyone who's ever forwarded an offensive joke might want to think about this for a moment.

Now, in an ideal world no one would ever be disrespectful to or about anyone.  But that's not how it works.  Some may applaud that the reverend can never be critical of gays.  But a similar ruling could be made in the not too distant future that prohibits criticism of Christians or Americans.  The CBC would sure have a tough job filling up its airtime under such a prohibition.

It sounds insane, but at the end of the day it's completely conceivable that Guy Earle could be banned for life from ever making a joke not pre-approved by the Human Rights Tribunal. Many people think they can ignore a tribunal's sentence because it's not a real court. But tribunals register their decision with a real court and they become fully enforceable, just like any court order. A person can be fined into compliance or even jailed.

This is the type of power available to the thugs on the tribunal panels who police our thoughts and words. Mercifully though, there's a simple solution available to Gordon Campbell that could put an end to the disgraceful conduct and abuses of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal that has become a rallying cry for those opposed to these kangaroo courts.

Fire them all.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2008