Hateful speech is “the price we pay for our freedom,” BC Supreme Court said in ruling

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Judge found New Westminster erred in canceling contract with church to rent ballroom because one of the event’s hosts was an LGBTQ advocate

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A city violated a church’s free expression when it canceled an event due to the participation of an anti-LGBTQ activist, according to a BC Supreme Court ruling.

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In a ruling in favor of freedom of expression, Judge Maria Morellato said: “In a free and democratic society, the exchange and expression of diverse and often controversial or unpopular ideas can cause unease. It is, in a sense, the price we pay for our freedom.

The move comes as the federal Liberal government has proposed a new law, Bill C-36, which would restore a civil remedy for hate speech complaints and include a new definition of hate speech in legislation, based on decisions. previous judicial proceedings.

Experts have pointed out that courts define hate speech narrowly, meaning that much of what might be considered hate speech by the average Canadian is not considered hate speech under the law, but rather falls into the so-called “horrible but lawful” category. For example, the courts have said that advocating for diminishing rights for certain groups does not fall into the category of hate speech.

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The judge found that the City of New Westminster had erred in canceling a contract with the Redeemed Christian Church of God, also known as Grace Chapel, to rent a ballroom for a young Christian conference. The city canceled the reservation over a complaint that one of the event’s hosts, Kari Simpson, was an anti-LGBTQ activist.

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The judge said the city should have done more to review the content of the youth conference itself and the views of the speakers before canceling.

“I am very aware that the City was trying to protect LGBTQ rights when it made the decision to cancel the Youth Conference. It is commendable and these minority rights must be taken into consideration, ”said the judge.

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“Yet an important step in the City’s decision-making process has been missed. The City did not come to an informed conclusion; instead, he made his decision based on assumptions about the Youth Conference and what it would entail. He based his assumptions on the content of this conference solely on one of the ostensible points of view of the facilitator without considering what would actually be expressed at the Youth Conference.

Simpson heads the Culture Guard group and has been an activist for decades. Simpson’s campaign against the availability of books describing same-sex couples in schools led to a libel lawsuit that ended in the Supreme Court of Canada in 2008. The court ruling described her as “a fine social activist. known as opposed to any positive representation of a gay lifestyle ”. In recent years, Simpson has campaigned against an inclusive LGBTQ curriculum in British Columbia schools.

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Morellato said the decision to cancel the reservation could have been justified had the city “at least explored or considered possible accommodation.” But he “took no steps to consider how any infringement of Grace Chapel’s freedom of expression could be minimized, while taking into account the other interests he wished to protect.” His decision was swift and hasty.

The City of Westminster had argued that Simpson was a “notoriously anti-sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) activist” who advocated for “sexual orientation therapy”.

Once “governments start to pretend that the expression of some ideas is less valuable than others, we find ourselves in dangerous ground”

The city had argued that “even if this expression does not reach the level of hate speech, the low value of the expression supports the reasonableness of the annulment.”

But the judge disagreed, writing that once “governments start to argue that the expression of some ideas is less valuable than others, we find ourselves on dangerous ground.”

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Morellato said in the ruling that “the city restricted Grace Chapel’s freedom of speech by essentially assuming she was” of low value “without educating herself properly.” The church had told the city in a letter that the purpose of the conference was “to examine biblical views regarding issues of sexuality and identity.”

The city “took immediate steps to research and address concerns raised by the complaint it received that anti-LGBTQ views are being aired at the Youth Conference.” But before canceling the conference the next day, “the City took no similar steps to inform itself more fully about the planned content or the focal points of the speakers at the Youth Conference.”

Morellato noted that her conclusion that “the City has not made sufficient efforts to educate itself in order to consider and fairly balance competing rights is supported by the fact that Grace Chapel asked the City to reconsider her decision and she refused to do so. “

A press release from the Constitutional Freedom Justice Center, which represented Grace Chapel in the case, said the group was “pleased that the court has defended our client’s free speech and said the government must respect the Charter by giving access to the facilities. “

“The City’s knee-jerk reaction to cancel the reservation of a religious community composed mostly of new Canadians on the basis of unfounded accusations was reprehensible.

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