If you have been following the news over the past week or so, you cannot have missed the controversy generated by the public acknowledgment by premier-in-waiting Frank Coleman that he is a pro-life supporter when it comes to the issue of abortion.
Much debate has been generated in local media over whether he would enforce his personal views on abortion on the rest of the Newfoundland populace, and he has gone to great lengths to reassure people that while he does not personally support abortion, he would respect the laws of the province and not seek to change the situation as it presently exists.
While his views do not reflect, per se, on equal rights for gays and lesbians, it is a fact that many people who define themselves as pro-life based on their Christian beliefs also object to homosexuality on the same grounds, and this only becomes a problem when such people seek to impose these views on others.
These two issues came together in recent weeks in Saskatchewan and illustrate the difference between holding a view and seeking to impose one’s views.
It began when American anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera — who heads the group Americans for Truth About Homosexuality — was initially detained at a Regina airport upon entering Canada and questioned by Canada Border Services officials. They attempted to deny him entry to Canada based on our hate propaganda laws and, after examining his laptop and holding a hearing, he was allowed to enter.
He was in Canada to speak at a conference being held by the Saskatchewan Pro-Life Association in Weyburn, and after his release, he blasted the officials about being detained and blamed the group Intolerance Free Weyburn for causing him to be “flagged” at the border.
I don’t know if this group did play a role in his being questioned or whether officials acted on their own concern. What LaBarbera did not mention was that there is a precedent that could cause worry.
He had spoken at a 2013 conference in Kingston, Jamaica and had urged that government to fight off a repeal of its buggery law. In his speech, he criticized his government over its support of gay rights and hoped Jamaicans would learn “from our mistakes and from lessons of history, and avoid the inevitable moral corruption and health hazards and the danger to young people that comes from capitulating to this sin movement that calls itself gay.”
I am no expert on hate laws but naming homosexuality as a danger to young people is certainly meant to raise emotions and it is also a fact that there has been an upswing of violent incidents against gays and lesbians in Jamaica recently.
If LaBarbera had only given his scheduled speech, there would be no more to the story. However, a couple of days after his speech, he accompanied a local anti-gay activist, Bill Whatcott, to the University of Regina to protest homosexuality.
Whatcott has a history of distributing anti-gay hate propaganda and in February 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that two of the flyers he had distributed violated the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. At this protest, police asked Whatcott to leave the premises and he refused and was arrested for trespassing. LaBarbera, who was standing nearly, told police he would stand in solidarity with Whatcott and he, too, was arrested for trespassing; both men were later charged with mischief.
Clearly, LaBarbera was willing to disrespect the laws of our country to promote his anti-gay views, and it seems the officials at the border when he entered the country were justified in their concerns.
It is not my intent to infer that Frank Coleman should not be trusted over his views; in fact, I respect the fact that he has a clear moral viewpoint and is not willing to back away from it. He has stated clearly that he will not impose his views on abortion on others and will uphold the laws of our province and — until proven otherwise — I respect the man for his word.
However, the fact that he has been questioned over his views is valid and people need to be reassured that those who aspire to lead us are to be trusted to represent all of us, not just those who share their moral views.
While he may be able to balance his religious views with secular laws, there are others, such as Whatcott and LaBarbera, who appear unable to make this distinction, and it is these types of people we need to remain vigilant of if we are to ensure that all citizens in our country are treated with equality and respect.
Brian Hodder is a past-chairman of Newfoundland Gays and Lesbians for Equality.