Canada

Anti-gay teacher can't claim charter protection: B.C. court

The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled that a Quesnel guidance counsellor who wrote publicly against homosexuality can't claim charter protection.

A high school teacher in British Columbia, punished for writing publicly against homosexuality, is not protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the province's Supreme Court has ruled.

Chris Kempling, a teacher and guidance counsellor in a Quesnel high school said the ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court is "a significant blow to freedom of speech and freedom of religion," denying Christian teachers the right to speak out on controversial issues. Kempling says he intends to appeal the ruling.

In 2002, the British Columbia College of Teachers suspended Kempling for one month for "professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming a BCCT member."

It had been investigating a complaint received after Kempling wrote a series of letters to his local newspaper between 1997 and 2000 saying homosexuality was wrong.

One letter said in part: "I refuse to be a false teacher saying that promiscuity is acceptable, perversion is normal, and immorality is simply 'cultural diversity' of which we should be proud."

The college said the letters were discriminatory and derogatory, and contrary to its commitment to provide a supportive learning environment for all students.

Kempling and his supporters took the matter to court, arguing that the charter protected his right to express his Christian beliefs outside the classroom.

This week, Justice Ronald Holmes of the British Columbia Supreme Court rejected that argument, saying discriminatory speech can stifle the speech and social participation of others, and thus does not deserve protection under the charter.

"By publicly linking his private, discriminatory views of homosexuality with his status and professional judgment as a teacher and secondary school counsellor, the appellant called into question his own preparedness to be impartial in the fulfilment of his professional and legal obligations to all students, as well as the impartiality of the school system," the judge wrote.

"That in itself is a harmful impact on the school system as a non-discriminatory entity."

Tarry Grieve of the B.C. College of Teachers welcomed the judge's decision.

"If we're going to speak out, we should first of all take a look at whether, in our role as educators, we would be violating any of the standards that the profession is asked to abide by," he said.

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