Calgary lawyer challenging gay-straight alliance bill compares pride flags to swastikas

John Carpay's comment comparing rainbow pride flags to swastikas should get him disbarred and removed as a member of the United Conservative Party, says an LGBTQ advocate.

John Carpay is a UCP member who Jason Kenney once compared favourably to civil-rights activist Rosa Parks

Lawyer John Carpay spoke at a Rebel Media event in Calgary Saturday where he compared rainbow flags to swastikas, saying both were totalitarian symbols. (Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms)

The United Conservative Party should remove a member who compared rainbow pride flags to swastikas, says an LGBTQ advocate.

On Saturday, Calgary lawyer John Carpay, with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, spoke at a conference organized by Rebel Media, a far-right media organization that has been criticized for sympathetic coverage of white supremacy.

"How do we defeat today's totalitarianism? You've got to think about the common characteristics. It doesn't matter whether it's a hammer and sickle for communism, or whether it's the swastika for Nazi Germany or whether it's a rainbow flag, the underlying thing is a hostility to individual freedoms," Carpay said. 

Carpay told CBC News in a phone interview that the 30-second clip gives an incorrect impression that he's "equating different belief systems" and doesn't do justice to his 20-minute presentation, which focused on the "nature of totalitarianism." 

"I'm saying that totalitarianism has common characteristics and then I'm saying it doesn't matter what external symbol is being used when freedoms are under attack," Carpay said.

"We have to defend the free society. It doesn't matter what the external symbol might be for an ideology, what matters is our fundamental freedoms being attacked and what are we doing to defend them."

Carpay said examples of freedoms being under attack include anti-LGBT protestors being removed from college campuses and Alberta government Bill 24, which protects students from being outed by teachers if they join a gay-straight alliance.

He later apologized in an emailed statement for "unintentionally" drawing the comparison.

Carpay's statement is posted in full at the bottom of this article.

Other speakers at the event included Conservative Saskatoon MP Brad Trost and People's Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier.

Carpay is the lawyer behind a lawsuit challenging Alberta's Bill 24.

In arguments before the court, he alleged that gay-straight alliances — peer-support groups that are meant to tackle bullying and provide supportive environments for LGBTQ students — are "ideological sexual clubs."

"I thought the comments were absolutely offensive and require immediate action," said Kristopher Wells, an LGBTQ advocate and associate professor at MacEwan University in Edmonton who specializes in sexual and gender minority youth.

"The true motivations are crystal-clear now of the kind of hate and homophobia behind this kind of opposition. I think Jason Kenney needs to immediately suspend this person from the UCP party and denounce this kind of homophobic hatred."

UCP is 'big-tent party': Kenney

Christine Myatt, a spokesperson for UCP leader Jason Kenney, provided the following emailed statement in response to Carpay's comments: 

"Of course we do not believe the rainbow flag has any equivalency to fascism and communism — ideologies that have been responsible for the deaths of well over 100 million people.

"The UCP is a big-tent party that supports the rule of law, equality of all before the law, and protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of all. In that light, the UCP hosted Pride breakfasts in both Edmonton and Calgary this year."

Carpay is a UCP member who spoke to resolutions at the party's policy convention this spring.

In 2017, Kenney spoke at a Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms event, comparing Carpay's work to that of civil-rights activist Rosa Parks and asking people to donate to Carpay's organization.

Last month, Kenney disavowed a former campaign worker with ties to white supremacy and cancelled his UCP membership.

The leader said at the time he was looking to create a database to screen out extremists from seeking party memberships.

Kenney's spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Carpay's views about the LGBTQ flag would qualify him as an extremist member of the party.

"To equate the Nazis with the movement for equality for LGBTQ people is abhorrent," said Duncan Kinney, the executive director of left-leaning advocacy group Progress Alberta.

"Jason Kenney was just in the media last week talking about how he's going to create a database to keep extremists out of the UCP. This is an extremist in his ranks … Kenney has spoken warmly about the human rights work Carpay has done."

Carpay's comment drew negative reaction on social media, with Conservative Alberta MP Michelle Rempel echoing Kinney's sentiment in a tweet Sunday, saying, "The Nazis persecuted, killed and tortured LGBTQ ... In no universe, even some esoteric academic one, should the rainbow flag & the struggle for an end to the persecution of LGBTQ be equated to a Nazi symbol."

Edmonton talk radio host Ryan Jespersen tweeted Carpay is no longer welcome on his show after his comments at the Rebel Media event.

A Rebel Media reporter, Keean Bexte, took to social media to support Carpay, saying that if Kenney decides to terminate Carpay's membership, he and others at the conference will cancel their memberships. That tweet has since been deleted.

Wells said he's worried homophobia is on the rise, and called on all parties to denounce anti-LGBTQ hate speech.

"I think all parties and leaders should be denouncing this kind of homophobia, it just has no place in our society, in fact I believe the Alberta bar association should look at revoking this individual's membership to practise law in Alberta with these kind of hateful and discriminatory attitudes," Wells said. 

"Some of the rhetoric we're hearing from UCP party members and candidates, it emboldens people to come out with these hateful attitudes and start to dehumanize and attack minority groups who are very vulnerable in our society."

Read John Carpay's full statement in response to the comment he made Saturday:

"At a conference organized by The Rebel in Calgary on Nov. 10, I spoke for about 20 minutes about the nature and characteristics of totalitarianism, and the nature and characteristics of its opposite: the free society.

"It is my understanding that this presentation will be posted online very soon. It should be viewed in its entirety.

"In speaking about the nature of the free society, and attacks on the free society, I referred in the same sentence to the rainbow flag and to the flags representing communist and Nazi ideologies.

"In doing so, I unintentionally drew a broad comparison between the rainbow flag and the flags which bear the symbols of Communism and Nazism. I should not have done so, and I apologize.

"What I pointed out, in my 20-minute presentation, was that past attempts to enforce utopian ideals have often failed badly. We must always take care that, in our latter-day attempts to perfect the rights of any historically wronged community, we not trammel upon the rights of others.

"In my presentation, I pointed out that civil liberties are fragile, and must be defended. Unfortunately, the slogans of 'diversity,' 'equity,' 'tolerance' and 'inclusion' have been abused in ways that undermine our free society, and the fundamental freedoms of speech, conscience, religion, association and peaceful assembly. Fundamental freedoms need to be defended, regardless of where the attack is coming from.

"Taken in context, I hope it can be seen that it was not my intent to broadly equate the rainbow flag with the evils of Communism and Nazism, and I again offer my apology to anyone who may have interpreted my remarks in such fashion."


Sarah Rieger

Former CBC digital reporter

Sarah Rieger worked with the digital team at CBC Calgary from 2017 to 2021. She previously worked at HuffPost Canada.