A little while back, I blogged about some fear-mongering from the religious right that alleged that the passage of SB200 in Colorado to protect transgender people had somehow effectively banned the Bible. One recurring theme we keep getting from Fundies is that they feel their freedom of speech should trump GLBTQ civil rights.
This attitude continues to empower bat$#!t people like David Popescu. Oh, sure, he's an independent candidate in a Canadian Federal election, not likely someone who will ever hold sway on public policy. But I wonder how much of a personal impact it may have had on some of the kids in the crowd:
"Police are investigating whether an independent federal candidate committed a hate crime by telling high school students homosexuals should be executed." - The Sudbury Star
There is an immense difference between "free speech" and speech intended to terrorize, marginalize and incite. In legal matters, this is ideally the divisor between free and hate speech.
It remains to be seen if there will be charges or how far the case will go. Likely, it will not receive the high profile that occurred with Rev. Stephen Boissoin's letter to the Red Deer Advocate, published in 2002 and culminating in an oft-cited (even south of the border) ruling last year. In the letter (which the newspaper published under the headline, "Homosexual Agenda Wicked"), the executive director of the Concerned Christian Coalition blatantly compared gays to drug dealers and pedophiles. The full text of the letter appears to be quite difficult to find, and is perhaps still sealed as a result of the ruling (if someone has a copy, I would be happy to acquire it), but it certainly left an implicit suggestion that "something should be done."
And something was done. Less that two weeks later, a teenager was beaten in a homophobic attack that the courts found to be circumstantially connected.
"There are some reasonable lines that need to be drawn and some responsibilities that come along with free speech." - Darren Lund, complainant in the Boissoin case
Terrorize, marginalize and incite. Like Boissoin's letter, David Popescu's comments would not be considered acceptable if leveled at any other group characterized by race, age, gender, disability or faith. And yet, Leviticus 20:13 is still taken as justification to advocate this level of terror, marginalization and incitement of violence against the gay community -- despite being a part of a mass of outdated scripture (Leviticus to Deuteronomy) that includes tenets about when it's acceptable to do other things that our society does not tolerate, such as stoning children to death or beating one's wife.
(What I would like to know is why the other candidates -- including a Liberal and New Democrat (slightly left of liberal), of which both parties paint themselves as GLBTQ champions -- felt it appropriate to leave the comments unchallenged. It took protesting students acting of their own accord to get the authorities involved.)
Popescu was interviewed by the Sudbury Star later in the day, and he reiterated: "A young man asked me what I think of homosexual marriages and I said I think homosexuals should be executed. My whole reason for running is the Bible and the Bible couldn't be more clear on that point." (He also said at one point that "God would hurt a woman who had an abortion")
Matt Guerin has it right when he points out how this speech is seriously damaging enough that it warrants infringing on that freedom of speech:
"Words like those uttered by David Popescu are designed to dehumanize and destroy the peace of mind of those targeted. They are designed to increase the suffering of their victims and make their lives more miserable. Even if no one obeys folks like David Popescu and executes or kills homosexuals, the environment has still been poisoned all the more in favour of greater hate. Without penalty, people like Popescu win."
So while the potential for this case to end up before the Human Rights Commission may eventually trigger Ezra Levant, the anti-HRC lobby (that's "Human Rights Commission," for you Yanks) and neo-nazis like Paul Fromme to rail against infringements on freedom of speech yet again, every queer kid who had been in that crowd (the law of averages would put that at about 10%, based on the rate of incidence in the rest of society) and may now be feeling suicidal or a target illustrates exactly why hate speech laws remain necessary to maintain and enforce.