Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 26, 2004
Thousands rally against C-250
Protesters say anti-hate bill will stifle religious reform
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
Amid shouts of "Shame" and "God hates hatred," thousands of demonstrators from across Canada marched onto Parliament Hill April 17 calling for the defeat of Bill C-250, now in its final stages in the Senate.
Led by hundreds of Chinese-Canadian Christians who came to Ottawa from Toronto aboard 12 buses, the protestors formed a single column outside the Supreme Court of Canada before being escorted onto the Hill by police.
Several members of EGALE - a national gay rights group - their arms linked together and wearing pink paper triangles on their clothing, stood in a line as the demonstrators filed silently past the Centennial Flame. A few shouted insults at marchers carrying Canadian flags and signs opposing the legislation. "You're a disgrace to your Bible and your flag," yelled one supporter of the bill.
Bill C-250 would add "sexual orientation" to the list of groups protected by Criminal Code provisions dealing with hate propaganda. The law currently protects victims of hatred based on colour, race, religion or ethnic origin.
Billed as the National Liberty Day Rally, speaker after speaker denounced the legislation and warned that those who voted for it will pay the price in the next federal election, expected to be called within weeks.
Father Francois Beyrouti, a Melkite Catholic priest in Ottawa, said Canada is at a critical moment in its history. "Do not be deceived, Bill C-250 seeks not to protect but to muzzle dissent and enforce conformity to an immoral political agenda," he told the crowd.
He said sexual orientation is not defined in the bill. What is next, he wondered. "Will pedophilia be considered a sexual orientation?" As well, "hatred is not adequately defined," said the priest. "Will the Bible and other religious texts be banned in Canada as hate literature?"
Beyrouti also said the legislation would stifle legitimate debate and research in the medical community. "Will these health professionals who speak about the health risks of the homosexual lifestyle be jailed?" he asked.
The Catholic bishops' conference was not represented at the rally but it, too, fears Bill C-250 will have a chilling effect on freedom of religion. It has also expressed worries that someone could invoke the Criminal Code to silence the Church's teachings on the sexual conduct of homosexuals.
Gilles Marchildon, executive director of EGALE, said in a statement that the rally is based on "a complete misunderstanding" of the bill. "The bill will protect gays and lesbians from the most extreme hate-mongering and will not limit anyone's freedom to express their moral or religious disapproval of homosexuality."
The bill is in third-reading stage and was to be voted on by the Senate on April 21 after the WCR went to press.
One rally organizer, Catholic apologist John Pacheco, said it was no surprise to those gathered that "the liberal media and the more vocal supporters of Bill C-250 are highly antagonistic and intolerant of those who oppose this legislation."
"They think that we are tacitly supporting hatred against homosexuals by opposing this legislation, but they don't know us," he said. "We are not here because of hate, we are here because of love, love for democracy, love for our country, love for freedom and yes, even love for our opponents."
Added Pacheco, "But love does not always say 'Yes.'" Sometimes it must say 'No.'"
He also drew lengthy applause in saying to opponents of the bill, "You will not muzzle the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Cheryl Gallant, who according to her introduction was the only member of Parliament willing to speak at the rally, said that if anything demonstrates "the moral decay of our democratic institutions," it has to be Bill C-250.
Gallant, an Ontario Conservative MP, told the throng, "Let freedom of speech be our rallying cry when the next federal election is called."
Gallant also said those at the rally "have been subjected to many hateful statements as we defend the very right of those individuals who make those statements against us."
Toronto print shop owner Scott Brockie who, in the late 1990s, refused to provide printing services to a gay and lesbian organization because homosexuality is offensive to his religious beliefs, said he has "plenty of clients who are gay." However, through his refusal to the gay organization, he said, "I did not want to produce materials that would be used to promote the goals, the philosophy, the cause, the ideals of an organization whose reason for existence run so counter to my core beliefs."
Brockie was fined $5,000 by the Ontario Human Rights Commission at the time and was informed only recently that he must also pay $40,000 in court costs.
"I'm here today in support of this rally because I'm a living example of what happens when the rights of freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are in opposition to the rights of certain groups in our culture," he said. "I'm an example of what happens when you stand for a cause that isn 't popular with the media and the courts of the land."
As a result of his experience, said Brockie, "the supposed assurances that faith groups need not worry about their teachings in light of Bill C-250 ring very, very hollow to me."