It is sometimes argued that the only politically correct targets of bigotry these days are white males, evangelical Christians, and Catholics, yet even that might be changing. In June, the Ontario Press Council upheld a complaint made by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada against a column by Michelle Landsberg titled, “Heterosexual family life a source of smug pride,” that ran in the June 2, 2001 issue of the Toronto Star. Janet Epp Buckingham, the EFC’s general legal counsel, argued one paragraph in particular “targets evangelical Christians and tends to engender bias and hatred against them … It appears to be a direct attack against evangelicals.”
The column, which dealt with the city of Regina’s declaration of a Heterosexual Family Pride Day last year, attacked evangelical Christians for encouraging a climate of hatred. “Their idea of social stability, however, is just what threatens us all,” wrote Landsberg. “It creates the kind of parents who teach their children to hate and taunt their schoolmates who are children of lesbians or gay men. It gives licence to the kind of thugs who would beat a Mathew Shepard to death because he was gay. It breeds the toxic intolerance that drives gay youth to a 30 per cent higher suicide rate.”
The wife of former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis, mother of former CBC Counterspin host Avi Lewis, and a feminist activist in her own right, Michelle Landsberg has a history of making intemperate – some would say hateful – comments about those she disagrees with. In the past, she has called former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm “unutterably repellent,” described former U.S. president Ronald Reagan as “a genial fool with a feeble grasp of reality” who waged “nutty wars” against communism, accused the Reform Party of “race-baiting and hysterical misogyny,” and characterized pro-lifers as “narrow-minded fanatics” and “religious bullies.” In one column, “Words, actions can fight anti-choice violence,” Landsberg blamed the murder of abortion doctors on the “disgusting rhetoric” and “fake ‘documentaries’ about screaming fetuses” of pro-lifers. “Although the anti-choice crusade is led by men, there is no shortage of women followers who will recoil at nothing, not even bloodshed, to bend other women to the will of their male-dominated religions,” wrote Landsberg.
For its part, the Toronto Star claimed “the term evangelical was not capitalized and refers in this column to individuals with ‘militant zeal for a cause'” ,rather than to evangelical Christians per se, and suggested the column ought to be viewed in the context of Landsberg’s other columns, which have “long been a voice against extremist forces in several religions, including branches of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths.” The Ontario Press Council, however, rejected the notion that “evangelical” was intended to mean “zealots,” saying , “the Council regards the term in the column’s context as an unnecessarily hurtful reference to an identifiable group and upholds the complaint.”
Brian Rushfeldt, executive director of the Canadian Family Action Coalition, agrees with the Press Council that columnists should be given a great deal of latitude in what they write, but believes Landsberg, whom he suspects is “very bitter for some reason,” went too far this time. “Ideally, I would much prefer to see wide-open free speech rather than the current situation,” said Rushfeldt to The Interim, referring to restrictions imposed by human rights commissions and other organizations. “Let people say what they will. If (Landsberg) wants to write that kind of nonsense, that’s fine, but (the left) can’t have it both ways. If there are going to be any restrictions they should be against truly hateful things, but they need to apply to everyone.”As a former family counsellor, Rushfeldt is dismayed by the contents of Landsberg’s column. “This part about breeding toxic intolerance is just silly. There is no evidence that the high suicide rate among gay teens has anything to do with external pressures. Suicidal notions have much more to do with internal pressures.” He adds that the thugs who killed Mathew Shepard were “bad news,” and committed the crime for financial gain. “You can’t call yourself an evangelical Christian and go around killing people.”