Home / BCCLA News Update | June 1997

BCCLA News Update | June 1997

A report to the media on current issues in which the B.C. Civil Liberties Association is involved.
BCCLA representatives are available for interviews on these and other topics.

1. Hate Speech in a Democracy: The Doug Collins Case

The BCCLA is intervening at the Human Rights tribunal hearing regarding the complaint against Doug Collins and the North Shore News. We expect to make our oral arguments to the Tribunal during the week of June 23. We will argue that section 2 of the Human Rights Code, which bans any public expression likely to expose a group to hatred or contempt, is an unacceptable infringement on British Columbians’ basic right to freedom of speech. Citizens in a democracy must be able to express and hear any idea which they believe to be important to their self-governing role.

2. Codes of Conduct in Private Institutions: The Trinity Western University Case

The BCCLA intervened in the judicial review of the decision by the B.C. College of Teachers to deny accreditation to the teaching program at Trinity Western University. The College had refused to accredit TWU’s program — although it passes academic muster — because the code of conduct at TWU requires students to refrain from “biblically condemned” behaviour including “homosexual behaviour.”We argued that:

  • although TWU’s code may discriminate against gays and lesbians, there is no evidence that TWU graduates will be more likely to discriminate in the classroom as the College feared;
  • it is outside the mandate of the College of Teachers to consider whether an institution has a discriminatory policy; and
  • as a private religious institution, TWU has a right to limit entrance to those students who share its beliefs or are willing to conduct themselves as if they do.

We expect the court’s decision this summer.

3. Banning Books in Public Schools: The Surrey School Board Case

Recently, the Surrey School Board banned three children’s books that portray as normal and acceptable the existence of same-sex parenthood. The BCCLA appeared before the Board to protest this ban.We believe that all school boards should have a policy for dealing with complaints about resource materials, and pre-defined criteria for accepting or rejecting the materials. These criteria should include the promotion of tolerance, equality and a respect for diversity so that all children, regardless of background, could learn in safe, welcoming environments. School boards are bound as public servants to prevent intolerance and ensure that their students have open access to information that is relevant and appropriate for their maturity level.

We are considering our options in challenging this decision.

4. HIV and Assault: The Cuerrier Case

The BCCLA has applied for intervenor status before the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of a man who was acquitted of a charge of aggravated assault for having unprotected sex with a woman, knowing he was HIV-positive. Fortunately, the woman did not contract the virus.Last fall, we intervened in this case at the B.C. Court of Appeal. In its decision, that court agreed with the BCCLA’s submission that:

  • criminalizing such behaviour — no matter how despicable — could thwart public health initiatives to slow the spread of the disease;
  • to characterize the sexual relationship in this case as non-consensual would make too broad the areas of human interaction subject to criminal charges; and
  • if criminal sanctions are appropriate, it should be up to Parliament to enact legislation which balances the public health considerations against society’s desire to punish such behaviour.

5. Drug Testing in the Workplace

Increasingly, private sector companies in Canada are following the lead of those in the U.S. and randomly testing their employees for drug use. In many cases, the employees are not involved in safety-sensitive positions at all, but rather in retail or clerical functions.The BCCLA opposes such testing in almost all cases, viewing it as an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of employees with little or no gain to occupational and public safety. Employee assistance programs can better deal with most substance abuse problems in the workplace.

In order to create legal protections for employees, we are preparing a constitutional challenge to the drug testing of employees by the B.C. Racing Commission. We are also distributing a brochure, The Facts About Drug Testing in the Workplace.

6. The Little Sister’s Case 

The BCCLA and Little Sister’s bookstore are continuing our now seven-year-old constitutional challenge to censorship by Canada Customs. We have filed an appeal of the B.C. Supreme Court decision (which acknowledged the unfairness of Customs’ practices but failed to strike down the law which authorizes those practices). We expect to be back in court late this year or early in 1998.

7. Overcrowding in Prisons & Youth Detention Centres

Both the provincial and federal governments are using “double bunking” of inmates and youth in detention centres as a way of dealing with the problem of too many people being given jail sentences and not enough money to build more jails.By definition, the practice of housing two, or even more, inmates in a cell designed for one amounts to overcrowding both in the cells and in access to inmate services such as medical care and recreation. It creates stressful conditions for inmates and prison staff and dramatically increases the possibility of a major prison incident. Double bunking is, in our view, bad public policy that almost certainly creates intolerable levels of punishment for inmates.

We have produced a brief on this topic, Double Bunking in B.C. Corrections, and have approached the Attorney General and the Ministry for Children and Families with our concerns.

8. Review of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act

The FOIPPA is due for a legislative review in 1997-98. Local and provincial governmental bodies will be lobbying hard for increased fees to offset the cost of complying with the Act, and tighter limits on the public’s access to information. The BCCLA is pressing for an open process for that review, which will ensure that citizens’ views get a fair hearing, and that the press can monitor both the committee’s work and the reasonableness of its recommendations.

9. New Police Complaints Process

The Attorney General has introduced Bill 16, which amends the Police Act to significantly improve the way complaints about police are handled by municipal police forces. These are changes that the BCCLA has lobbied successive Attorneys General for over the last 20 years.The BCCLA believes in giving credit where credit is due. This is a good piece of legislation. The amendments will discourage defensive and legalistic responses by the police to citizen complaints, provide credible and effective oversight, and ensure an impartial appeal mechanism.

10. Motion Picture Act Challenge

Little Sister’s bookstore is at it again! They’re challenging the provincial government’s video classification scheme as a violation of their rights to equality and freedom of speech.A provincial government agency classifies films and videos according to their violence and sexually explicit content. Videos for rent or sale which contain explicit sex must be submitted for classification. There is a hefty fee for this, and another for editing and re-reviewing a video. For large-distribution videos, the fees are not a problem, since the cost is spread over a large number of copies. But for sexually explicit videos with a small distribution — such as those with gay and lesbian themes — the classification fees are often prohibitive. The consequence is that gays and lesbians do not have access to perfectly legal videos because of a classification regime which is supposed to be neutral in its effect.

Although the BCCLA does not in principle oppose classification of videos, we are supporting Little Sister’s bookstore in this challenge because of the unfairness caused by the fee structure.