Catholic magazine targetted in human rights complaint

By 
  • January 3, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - An Edmonton resident has filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against Catholic Insight, a small Toronto-based magazine of opinion, news and analysis.


The magazine, which has a monthly circulation of about 3,500, announced the news in a press release Dec. 20. The magazine said that it has been advised by the commission that Rob Wells, who has made similar complaints against three Canadian web sites and Ron Gray, leader of the Christian Heritage Party, has filed a nine-point complaint against the magazine on the grounds of offending homosexuals.

Catholic Insight Editor, Basilian Father Alphonse de Valk, said he will fight the complaint vigorously.

He said his magazine adheres to the teachings of the Catholic Church on homosexuality, which say that “persons with same-sex attraction must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity and every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

The Catholic Church also teaches that sexual intimacy between two people of the same sex is a grave sin.

De Valk also noted that in a democratic country in which freedom of speech, press and religion are enshrined in the Constitution, his magazine has the right to report and comment on “any segment of society that is involved in lobbying and activism on issues of public policy, such as changing the legal definition of marriage, adoption rights, the reallocation of social benefits and other vital questions.”

Catholic Insight has been a fierce opponent of same-sex marriage and other issues advocated by what has been called the gay-rights lobby.

De Valk said in the press release that the complaint consists of three pages of “isolated and fragmentary extracts from articles dating back as far as 1994, without any context. This creates a misleading impression of the tone of the magazine’s overall coverage of the homosexual issue.”

Though the commission has forwarded the complaint to Catholic Insight and the magazine has replied, no decision has been made on whether there will be a hearing.

The complaint follows recent human rights challenges to various magazines, groups and individuals for their criticism of other groups, such as homosexuals or Muslims. Recently, Maclean’s magazine and its columnist Mark Steyn were challenged by the Canadian Islamic Congress over an excerpt of a book he wrote in the magazine that lamented the rise of the Muslim population of Europe. In this case, both the Canadian commission and the B.C. Human Rights Commission have agreed to hear the case.

There have been others. In 2005, there was a complaint against Calgary Bishop Fred Henry for a pastoral letter he wrote on marriage. It was dropped after some discussion with the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

In a case in British Columbia, a local chapter of the Knights of Columbus was forced to pay $1,000 to each of two complainants for hurting their feelings when the Knights refused to rent a hall to them to celebrate their same-sex marriage, even though the Knights were cleared by the commission of doing anything wrong.

In cases heard by the Canadian and provincial human rights commissions, those who make the complaints do not have to pay any costs, but defendants must pay their own legal costs.

Iain Benson, a lawyer who specializes in religious freedom, believes such claims are harmful to a democratic society.

“I think that such claims are dangerous as a free and democratic society must allow the maximum freedom of speech and the press,” Benson, executive director of the Ottawa-based Centre for Cultural Renewal, told Canadian Catholic News.

Issues such as the above should be “fair game for fair comment,” he said.

Meanwhile, Henry is calling for an overhaul of legislation governing human rights commissions.

“Human rights laws, designed as a shield, are now being used as a sword,” Henry wrote in a Dec. 31 e-mail from Calgary.

Henry described the process as “fundamentally flawed,” and closely resembling “kangaroo courts.”

Among those flaws are: the “presumption of guilt until you can prove your innocence; the open ended time lines for dealing with a complaint; and unjust incurring of financial expenditures for the defendant in the simple event of a complaint being lodged.”

(With files from Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News)

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