A burning question of faith

In July 2010, Terry Jones, a preacher with the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida proclaimed Sept. 11 to be “Burn a Qur’an day.” Although Jones did not burn Qur’ans and announced that he and his church never will, the criticisms continue to pour in over his threats.

In the Sept. 11 edition of her regular column, the Globe and Mail ‘s Christie Blatchford wrote that “Rev. Jones could happen only in America,” and that if something like this were to happen in Canada, The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), police and courts would have put a stop to things.

According to Debra Parkes, associate professor in the faculty of law at the University of Manitoba, that might not be the case.

“On the books we have limits of freedom of expression to reduce hate speech – but in practice they are rarely applied,” she said.

Parkes said that she cannot think of any recent cases within the Province of Manitoba or even within Canada where somebody has been charged.

But, she noted that human rights laws are applied only to severe cases where a person is publically making claims that a group is dangerous and that someone needs to do something about them.

She added that it is unlikely that the Qur’an burning would meet the provisions of being hate speech.

“Even under human rights laws, at the end of the day, those are only charged against quite extreme cases,” she said.

According to Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA), a statute passed in 1977 by the Government of Canada to extend laws to protect victims of discrimination prohibits the communication of messages that are likely to expose a person to “hatred” or “contempt” by ways to telephone or Internet.

This section empowers the CHRC to deal with complaints of hate messages either by telephone or Internet.

But not all complaints even make it to an adjudicator.

“The communication that is the subject of the complaint must be so excessive and extreme in nature that it suggests that a given race, sex, religion or other group identifiable in relation to one or more grounds in the CHRA is devoid of any redeeming qualities as human beings,” said Stacey-Ann Morris, a communications spokesperson for the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

“If the message does not meet this threshold, it will not be found to come within the ambit of Section 13, notwithstanding that the message is offensive, controversial, shocking or disgusting to some.”

Regardless of Jones being Canadian or American, his actions have North Americans of all beliefs riled up.

”It creates a mirror image of extremism,” said Dean Peachey, vice-principal of the University of Winnipeg’s Global College. “It charges up certain Christians or Americans ... and at the same time it does that, it fires up other radicals who have a bone to pick with the United States.”

Peachey stressed that there must be tolerance for every faith’s perspectives.

“All religions involve a sense of morality, teachings as to proper ways to live or not,” he said.

Published in Volume 65, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 7, 2010)

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