In contrast, in 2003, the Alberta Human Rights Commission did not protect the dignity, feelings, or self-respect of Quintin Johnson. Johnson, a Christian, had complained to the Commission regarding a song titled “Kill the Christian” by the death metal band Deicide. The lyrics included “you are the one we despise”, “I will love watching you die”, and “kill the Christian”. The Commission dismissed Johnson’s complaint on the grounds that Deicide did not have a wide enough listening audience or popular appeal, even though the band had sold nearly 500,000 albums in the US alone by that time.
So why is Earle’s artistic expression discriminatory while Deicide’s is not? What makes Earle’s expression more harmful than Deicide’s?
It’s not the content of the expression. Deicide is counselling the murder of Christians, while Earle only demeaned Pardy’s sexuality. Earle may have hurt Pardy’s feelings, but Deicide’s lyrics may be vociferous enough to sustain an investigation under the Hate Propoganda section of the Criminal Code.
It’s not the context of the performances. The song “Kill the Christian” can be purchased at nearly any popular music record store. It is available online via iTunes, Amazon, and from a myriad of other online music retailers. And because of the nature of recorded music, a listener can choose to hear the song over and over again. Earle’s insults were purely transient. After he uttered them, no one, including Pardy, could hear them again.
It’s not the size of the audience. Deicide regularly tours the world, including Canada, and is free to perform music that advocates killing members of the Christian faith. Yet when Earle stood on a stage and made one-time remarks about Pardy’s sexuality, she was awarded $15,000.00 of Earle’s money. The complaint against Deicide was dismissed because the audience was deemed too small. Yet Earle’s audience was much smaller.
Maybe it’s who the complaint was made about? Deicide’s lyrics are written by the band’s vocalist, Glen Benton. It would be an extreme understatement to say that Benton is a controversial figure in the music industry. He has been labelled an animal abuser, a misogynist, and an anti-Christian Satanist. Earle, on the other hand, is a law-abiding amateur stand-up comic who has an otherwise untarnished reputation.
Any clear-headed appraisal of these facts would find Deicide’s expression more harmful than Earle’s. So if it’s not the content, the context, the audience, or the person who the complaint was made about, then what?
The lesson to be learned is that the law only protects certain people: the identity of the complainant matters. Because Pardy is a lesbian, her feelings are protected by the law. As a Christian, Johnson’s are not.
These cases are not anomalies. This is the way that our human rights legislation works. Individuals deemed to be part of “vulnerable” groups get protection, while others do not. And it is difficult to understand how this is constitutional. In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada said that section 15(1) of the Charter will strike down laws that harm human dignity.
Comedian, Guy Earle, recently filed a petition at the Supreme Court in British Columbia to appeal a decision of the BC Human Rights Tribunal. The Tribunal held that Earle discriminated against Lorna Pardy during an open mic event for amateur stand-up comics. Pardy heckled Earle and he responded by making insulting comments regarding her sexual orientation. These comments resulted in the Tribunal ordering Earle to pay Pardy $15,000.00 for injury to her dignity, feelings, and self-respect.
Human dignity within the meaning of [section 15(1)] does not relate to the status or position of an individual in society per se, but rather concerns the manner in which a person legitimately feels when confronted with a particular law. Does the law treat him or her unfairly, taking into account all of the circumstances regarding the individuals affected and excluded by the law?
I wonder if Johnson feels unfairly treated knowing that the law protects Pardy’s feelings but not his?
Published in July 2011 by Troy Media and Vancouver Sun.