A Court of Queen's Bench judge has ruled that a letter to the editor written by a former Alberta pastor deploring homosexuality was not a hate crime and is protected by Canada's freedom of speech.

Justice E.C. Wilson overturned a 2008 ruling by the Alberta Human Rights Commission that the letter by Stephen Boissoin, published in the Red Deer Advocate in 2002, broke provincial law.

The commission found that the letter may have played a role in the beating of a gay teenager two weeks after it was published. The commission ordered Boissoin to refrain from making disparaging remarks about homosexuals and to pay the complainant, former Red Deer high school teacher Darren Lund, $5,000 in damages.

Orders 'unconstitutional'

Neither order can now be enforced, as Wilson declared them "unlawful or unconstitutional." The letter carried the headline "Homosexual Agenda Wicked" and suggested gays were as immoral as pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps.

Boissoin argued he was simply commenting on government policy by criticizing positive depictions of homosexuality in the public school curriculum.

Boissoin said Thursday he was thrilled with the judge's ruling, calling it a victory for "freedom of speech and religious expression in Canada."

At the time he wrote the letter, Boissoin was a pastor with the Concerned Christian Coalition. He now works in the housing industry.

Lund, now a professor at the University of Calgary, said he was disappointed. "I really think this is a step backwards for our province," he said in an email to The Canadian Press. "In my view, the judge's ruling sets such strict standards for hate speech that this section is rendered all but unenforceable.

"I'm hopeful that Albertans hope to keep our communities inclusive and respectful for all people, but this ruling certainly offers no assistance in this regard. If the language contained in the letter does not meet the threshold of hateful, I am not certain what possibly would."

Law remains

The Canadian Constitution Foundation, a free-speech advocacy group, issued a news release saying it was pleased with Thursday's ruling. "Unfortunately, the law that was used against Rev. Boissoin to subject him to expensive and stressful legal proceedings for more than seven years is still on the books," said executive director John Carpay.

That law — the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act — says no one can publish a statement that is likely "to expose a person or a class of persons to hatred or contempt" for reasons including sexual orientation.

"In spite of today's court ruling, Albertans need to continue to exercise extreme caution when speaking about public policy issues, lest they offend someone who then files a human rights complaint," said Carpay. "No citizen is safe from being subjected to a taxpayer-funded prosecution for having spoken or written something that a fellow citizen finds offensive."