A former pastor and the Christian group he belonged to broke Alberta's human rights law by writing an anti-gay letter published in a Red Deer newspaper, a panel ruled Friday.

In 2002, Stephen Boissoin wrote a letter to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate that compared gay people to pedophiles and drug dealers. It was published under the headline "Homosexual agenda wicked."

'There are some reasonable lines that need to be drawn and some responsibilities that come along with free speech.'—Darren Lund, complainant

Darren Lund, a high school teacher in Red Deer at the time, complained to the Alberta Human Rights Commission that the letter was a hate crime after a gay teenager was attacked in the city.

On Friday, a commission panel decided Boissoin and the Concerned Christian Coalition of which he was executive director violated human rights law because the letter likely exposed gays to hatred and contempt.

"I find that there is a circumstantial connection between the hate speech of Mr. Boissoin and the CCC and the beating of a gay teenager in Red Deer less than two weeks following the publication of Mr. Boissoin's letter," wrote panel chairwoman Lori Andreachuk.

Lund, now a professor who teaches social justice in Calgary, was pleased with Friday's ruling after a five-year fight.

"I think the ruling was very strong on that, that you can't just hide behind saying something is my opinion or my belief and that somehow allows hate speech," he said.

"So I think that's essentially what the ruling enforces is that in this case there are some reasonable lines that need to be drawn and some responsibilities that come along with free speech."

'Clearly, the freedom of expression has been suppressed so we're disappointed.'—Jim Blake, Concerned Christian Coalition

Lund said he does not regret raising the complaint despite receiving hate mail and death threats.

Jim Blake, the current head ofthe Christian group, said all Canadians should be allowed to speak freely.

"Clearly, the freedom of expression has been suppressed so we're disappointed," Blake said.

Penalty to be determined

The panel has yet to decide on a punishment for Boissoin or the coalition, but Lund said if a fine is imposed, he'd like to see the money go to the Alberta Teachers Association's diversity, equity and rights committee.

During the human rights hearing in July, Boissoin testified that the coalition's CEO at the time,Craig Chandler, was aware of the letterand supported him.

Chandler won the Alberta Conservative party nomination in Calgary-Egmont earlier this month.

The Tory executive is reviewing his candidacy on Saturday because of concerns about comments he made on his radio show against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.