Letter from the CCCB General Secretary on Bill C-250 – An act to amend the Criminal Code (hate propaganda)

Wednesday, March 24 2004
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Members of the Senate of Canada
The Senate
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A4

Dear Honourable Senators:

Re: Bill C-250 – An act to amend the Criminal Code (hate propaganda)

We understand that the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs has been studying Bill C-250 which would expand the definition of “identifiable group” relating to the area of hate propaganda in the Criminal Code to include any section of the public distinguished by sexual orientation. The concerns of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops about this bill were expressed in a letter to the Minister of Justice on 15 April 2003 from the then General Secretary of our Conference, Msgr. Peter Schonenbach (a copy is enclosed for your information).

Since the letter by Msgr. Schonenbach, we understand that an amendment was made to the Bill before it passed the House of Commons. The amendment was made to provide a defence, “if, in good faith, the person expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text” (the text of the amendment is underlined).

In our opinion, the amendment is welcome but still does not go far enough and does not adequately address the concerns expressed in the previous letter from our Conference to the Minister of Justice. In that letter, it was clearly stated that the Catholic Church teaches that hatred is a sin; that homosexual persons must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity, and every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard avoided; but that sexual conduct between people of the same sex is morally wrong.

Participation in the current public debate on marriage has demonstrated there are individuals who believe that Catholic Church teaching on homosexual behaviour is hatred. We remain concerned that this Bill as presently drafted could be used in an attempt to silence Church teaching in this regard.

The Bill could also be used to preclude comment on homosexual behaviour by people who do not profess any particular religious faith. Everyone has an overall moral framework or belief system. For some people, this is primarily based on religious convictions; for others, it is informed by philosophical principles, and for others it is based on what have come to be called secular values. There are people who do not belong to a particular religion who may consider sexual conduct between people of the same sex to be morally wrong.

The current provisions of the Criminal Code with respect to hate propaganda are thirty years old and predate the Charter. We have seen in the intervening years the impact of including sexual orientation in various pieces of legislation. For example, when the question was about social benefits, reassurances were given that the traditional concepts of marriage and family were not at risk. This time reassurances are being given that freedom of religion is not at risk and that the objectives are to prohibit the incitement or willful promotion of hatred or the advocacy of genocide. These are worthy objectives but there is great potential for a clash of competing Charter rights. It would be very helpful for Senators to take the time to make sure that the guaranteed rights of freedom of religion and freedom of expression are not overridden. We suggest that one way of doing this could be to add a section that clearly exempts, from the hate propaganda provisions, the communicating of statements about the morality of sexual conduct.

In closing, we wish to emphasize that the Catholic Church teaches that every human being is created in the image of God and has inherent human dignity. Every human being is known and loved by God and entitled to have his or her life protected and respected. The promotion of hatred or violence of any kind is contrary to Church teaching.

At the same time, we remain concerned about how this Bill could be applied, now and in the future, and we ask you to take our concerns into account in your deliberations.

Sincerely,

Msgr. Mario Paquette, P.H.
General Secretary

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Last Updated on Thursday, July 27 2006