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Tuesday, March 07, 2000

The mark of an intolerant society
Donna Laframboise
National Post

Scott Brockie is a born-again Christian and an owner of Imaging Excellence Inc., a Toronto printing business. Last week, the Ontario Human Rights Commission fined him $5,000 for refusing to print letterhead, envelopes and business cards for the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives.

Being denied employment -- or a place to live -- solely because of the colour of your skin, your gender or your sexual orientation is no small matter. Any society that believes in equal opportunity must declare such discrimination unacceptable. But cases such as this make it difficult for those of us who support human rights codes to continue defending them.

Mr. Brockie believes the Bible condemns homosexuality. Therefore, it runs counter to his Christian faith, he says, to assist in promoting the "gay and lesbian agenda." I may disagree with Mr. Brockie's religious beliefs, but our Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives him the right not only to hold them, but to be free from being compelled to do things that violate them.

While someone of Mr. Brockie's persuasion might be expected to treat gays and lesbians badly, the human rights commission acknowledges this is not the case. In her 13-page ruling, adjudicator Heather MacNaughton points out that Mr. Brockie "provided printing services to a company called Body Body Wear, which produces underwear marketed to the gay male population" -- despite his personal feeling that such advertisements were "detestable."

In other words, Mr. Brockie knows how to make crucial distinctions. He does not refuse to do work for individuals just because they are homosexual. He does not refuse to do work for gay-oriented businesses. He does, however, believe that doing work for an organization whose only reason for existence is the celebration and promotion of homosexuality violates his religion.

It is no credit to Ms. MacNaughton that she was unable to appreciate the nuanced and principled nature of Mr. Brockie's position. Her own simple-minded analysis amounts to: If he works for some homosexuals, he should work for them all.

Following the announcement of the $5,000 fine, as well as an order forbidding him from turning down Archives business in future, the unrepentant printer told the National Post: "I didn't discriminate against the person. I discriminated against the philosophy, the lifestyle, the cause. I'm not prepared to compromise my beliefs for the sake of a printing job."

Ray Brillinger, the former president of the Archives who filed the complaint, and Edward Tompkins, that organization's current head, believe the gay community has won a big victory. "The days are long gone since a business can choose who they will do work for," Mr. Brillinger told the media. "It is a mark of an increasingly tolerant society," Mr. Tompkins declared.

But can a society prepared to coerce small business people into violating their religious beliefs be described as tolerant? If we're willing to trample on religious beliefs for the sake of a print job that could have been performed by dozens of other companies, why wouldn't we trample on the religious beliefs of pacifists the next time we're conscripting into the Armed Forces? Surely the needs of a country at war supersede the desire to have one's letterhead handled by a particular print shop.

Moreover, would Mr. Brillinger and Mr. Tompkins be so pleased if the shoe were on the other foot -- if a printing business owned by a lesbian couple was compelled to do work for a pro-life group, an anti-gay organization or the Canadian Alliance?

People who have been denied jobs or housing due to their sexual orientation are experiencing long delays in having their complaints addressed by human rights commissions -- precisely because time and money is being spent on trivial matters such as this.

The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives was perfectly free to tell its friends not to give Mr. Brockie any more work, to urge his other clients to take their business elsewhere, to picket his office and to complain loudly about him at every opportunity. Instead, it chose to turn the power of the state against him.

How disappointing that the gay and lesbian community, which itself has historically been victimized by state coercion, now believes this is the way to a better society.

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