Gay hate crimes law passed
The Toronto Star, TONDA MACCHARLES, OTTAWA BUREAU, Apr. 29, 2004
OTTAWAThe Senate voted yesterday to pass a law banning hate propaganda that targets gays and lesbians, as the bill's author an ecstatic New Democrat Svend Robinson grinned and hugged well-wishers on the streets of Ottawa.
The bill's passage by a 59-11 vote was the culmination of years of lobbying by Robinson, Parliament's first openly gay MP, to amend the 30-year-old hate crimes law.
It bans the incitement of genocide or hatred against an "identifiable group" defined by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin, and now, sexual orientation.
The bill also provides a defence to prosecution based on religious freedom. It says a person may not be held criminally liable if he or she expressed an opinion "in good faith" and based on a "religious subject or opinion."
It now only requires the procedural backing of royal assent. It is a rare feat for a private member's bill to pass into law, and Robinson's backers yesterday were overjoyed.
"It certainly makes me feel better, safer, and prouder being a Canadian," said Gilles Marchildon, executive director of GALE (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere), who watched the vote from the Senate's public gallery.
Two weeks ago, Robinson (Burnaby-Douglas) went on extended medical leave after inexplicably taking a $50,000 ring from a public auction display.
A special prosecutor is weighing whether to charge him with theft, and Robinson is under doctor's orders not to carry on any political activities, said a caucus spokesperson.
His colleague, MP Libby Davies (Vancouver East), who is the first MP to identify herself publicly as a lesbian, called Robinson after the vote on his cellphone. He was in Ottawa to clean out some personal effects from his apartment, she said.
"He said, `Oh, that's great, that's a very strong vote,'" said Davies, adding she, too, was thrilled.
Marchildon said it sends a strong signal hatred of gays and lesbians will not be tolerated.
The law's critics, however, were keenly disappointed.
Senator Anne Cools said she feared it exposes "millions of Canadians to criminal prosecution who hold moral opinions about sexuality."
Conservative Senator Gerry St. Germain said yesterday he was concerned the power to prosecute hate crimes "could be abused," but most important, he disagreed with any attempt to limit freedom of expression.