Tribunal rejects complaint

Parents' Voice complained about comments made on Xtra! publication website

The B.C. Human Rights tribunal has rejected a complaint lodged by Parents' Voice over online comments made in response to news stories published by Xtra!.

Parents' Voice is an ad hoc group that formed in opposition to the Burnaby school district's antihomophobia policy, and Xtra!, a publication for Canada's gay and lesbian community, was covering the controversy. Parents' Voice members claimed they had been targeted because of race, ancestry and/or beliefs in online comments on Xtra!'s website.

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Documents from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal list Charter Lau, Heather Leung, Belinda Bai and ChaiWei Cheng as the complainants. Kari Simpson, from Culture Guard, is the complainants' agent. The complaint was against Xtra! and Pink Triangle Press (Xtra!'s publisher).

The tribunal turned down the complaint because Internet publications don't fall under its provincial jurisdiction. (Internet publications fall under the federal jurisdiction of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.)

Some of the comments in question suggested that Parents' Voice members were "socially conservative immigrants" or "homophobic fearmongers" that were "brainwashed by ignorant religious figures." One commenter suggested boycotting Asian Parents' Voice members who own corner shops.

"Let's hope that the boycotting backlash or picketing of their livelihood might make them realize how good they had it as immigrants to our fabulous country pre-boycott," wrote someone identifying as Michael from Vancouver.

The complainants were asking for an apology, with agreed upon wording, placed on the front page of Xtra!'s print publication and online at Xtra.ca.

They also sought $7,000 for each complainant and $15,000 for Culture Guard to make an educational antibullying video about the case and "the consequences of the unlawful use of published hate and threats."

Bai, one of the Asian Parents' Voice members, was sad to hear the tribunal turned down the complaint.

"I think it's so sad because the Internet, it's a very common medium right now, people express their ideas freely. They should also show respect on the Internet," she said. "We express our beliefs and our thoughts, and they basically say we are bigots and go back to - where you came from. This makes me upset, because we are immigrants. We love this place, and we work really hard to contribute to this country and the Burnaby area."

"That's not a way to show respect to people with different opinions," she added. "It's a kind of discrimination because we are Chinese, right?"

Matt Mills, associate publisher and editorial director with Pink Triangle Press, said the complaint was "frivolous and without merit."

"I think it was frivolous because it was defamatory, and it was about hurt feelings, and Ms. Simpson hasn't prevailed in a lot of these cases, so you have to take these things with a grain of salt," Mills said.

Mills said online comments on Xtra! articles are not moderated, but if someone posts something that is offensive, other readers are free to flag it, and a moderator can remove it.

As for the racist overtone, Mills said "that sunlight is the best disinfectant" to handle racism and homophobia - having comments out in the open, subject to public discussion, is the best way to deal with it.

"Because something is distasteful or racist, we don't generally take them down unless they appear to be defamatory according to our understanding of the jurisprudence as it stands," he said. "It's one thing to edit our publication, it's another thing to edit the thoughts and comments of our readers and communities."

Bai hopes Parents' Voice will take the matter to the federal level.

"We should fight for that. This is not only for us, but all people who hold the same opinion as us," she said.

Simpson said the group will pursue the complaint federally, with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and with the Burnaby RCMP.

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