Anti-gay flyers violated Saskatchewan rights code: Supreme Court

OTTAWA – A Saskatchewan anti-gay crusader violated human rights rules when he distributed some pamphlets denouncing homosexuals, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

In a unanimous 6-0 decision Wednesday, the court found that two of the four flyers distributed by William Whatcott violated Saskatchewan’s Human Rights Code.

Those flyers referred to gay men as sodomites and pedophiles.

But the court struck down some language in the provincial code, clearing Whatcott of any wrongdoing in connection with two other flyers.

Whatcott produced and distributed leaflets in 2000 and 2001 that contained inflammatory statements about gay men, prompting complaints to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.

A tribunal ruled that Whatcott violated the province’s human rights code — but that finding was overturned by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal.

The commission appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that Whatcott’s flyers essentially asserted that gays and lesbians are less than human, exposing them to discrimination.

The high court agreed with respect to two of the flyers, saying they constituted hate-speech under the code.

“The tribunal’s conclusions with respect to (the two flyers) were reasonable,” Justice Marshall Rothstein wrote on behalf of the court.

“Passages of (the flyers) combine many of the hallmarks of hatred identified in the case law.”

The vilifying and derogatory representations used in the flyers created a “tone” of hatred against homosexuals, said Rothstein.

“It delegitimizes homosexuals by referring to them as filthy or dirty sex addicts and by comparing them to pedophiles, a traditionally reviled group in society,” he wrote.

However, in its ruling Wednesday, the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Saskatchewan charter.

It found that language in the code that defines hate literature as something that “ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person” is unconstitutional.

The ruling could have implications for other provinces with similar language in their human rights codes.

The Saskatchewan tribunal originally ordered Whatcott to pay the four complainants a total of $17,500.

The Supreme Court decision means he will have to pay one complainant $2,500 and another $5,000.

At least two groups that intervened in the case expressed hope that the decision will help to clarify the hate speech laws.

“It reaffirms the case law as we have understood it for the last 25 years,” said Mark Freiman of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

“It reaffirms that there is a very high standard in order for communication to qualify as hatred.”

But another group, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said hate-speech provisions still need to be updated to reduce or eliminate abuse.

“Canada’s hate speech protections need significant overhaul in terms of both content and process to ensure a proper balance between freedom of speech and protection from hate,” centre chair David Koschitzky said in a statement.

“The Jewish community of Canada understands all too well the corrosive impact of hate speech on vulnerable minorities.”

The Canadian Constitution Foundation denounced the ruling, saying it slams the door shut on free speech.

“The Supreme Court missed an excellent opportunity to rein in the power of various human rights commissions and tribunals to censor the expression of unpopular beliefs and opinions,” said foundation director Chris Schafer.

“Free expression is the lifeblood of democracies and all forms of expression, especially the offensive kind, needs to be protected.”

John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, was also disappointed with the decision, even though he disagreed with Whatcott’s opinions.

“I think (Whatcott) was dead wrong,” Carpay told CJWW radio in Saskatoon.

“(But) I think the way to counter his speech is by fellow citizens explaining why it’s wrong and repudiating it, rather than running to big brother government and launching a state prosecution.”




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Anti-gay flyers violated Saskatchewan rights code: Supreme Court

  1. From the headnote on the SCC website it seems like a fine decision. The change to the wording even seems reasonable, and I doubt it makes any practical difference as I would be surprised if a tribunal had ever based a conviction on ridicule where there was no hate.

    • Re “practical difference”: If you get dragged before a HRC on ridiculous charges and have to spend money you can ill afford to defend yourself, a ruling in your favour is cold comfort. Hopefully, the change in language will reduce the number of cases brought simply to harass. That, to me, is a very practical difference.

      • A quick read of some portions of the judgment seems to have the court being very clear it makes no difference and the tribunals hadn’t been basing decisions on ridicule but had been confining themselves, quite properly, to the most extreme examples of hate.

        And process sometimes requires requires time and expenditure, although far less than people like Ezra would have you believe. The same as we can’t shut down, say, a city ombudsman or a privacy commissioner or a building inspector or even the police investigating pedophilia charges just because sometimes it turns out the guy can beat the charges. I’m not saying access to the system isn’t an issue, but it’s an issue common to almost every single aspect of society and it isn’t going away any time soon. using it to attack HRC’s is altogether unwarranted.

        • Don’t get me wrong; I approve of the decision. I think the language they tossed removes ambiguity and will reduce nuisance suits. We need protections beyond the Crim Code, but the enabling language of many HRCs was overbroad. For anyone victimized or muzzled by “thought police” nuisance suits, this decision helps set a better balance.

          • It’s a more lrealistic view that nuisance and harassment hearings ranged somewhere from a small minority to non-existent, and will continue to be as such. The case against MacLeans, for instance, was weak but not a nuisance, harrassment or frivolous proceeding.

          • I’m going to have to disagree with you on the MacLeans case. And at least MacLeans had deep enough pockets to put up a good defence. How many others have been forced to back off or keep silent for fear of landing before a HRC?

            Restrictions on free speech should be few. Removing overly restrictive language from our laws is a good thing. I’m glad the tribunals have had common sense enough not to go overboard to date, but I’ve seen some pretty iffy and overreaching behaviour from the ON HRC – let’s just say I’m not a fan of Barbara Hall, and that I think the ON HRC is far from neutral.

            So removing overbroad powers from their arsenal is a good thing – period.

          • How many others have been forced to back off or keep silent for fear of landing before a HRC?

            ***

            There’s an excellent chance the number is zero, and that Ezra had to invent them in order to overcome the fact that HRC hate speech decisions are overwhelmingly well-reasoned.

  2. Thank you Supreme Court.

  3. Freedom of speech is freedom of speech. Homosexual activists have, at times, been mean, hateful, spiteful and even violent towards those who disagree with them. Note the persecuition of Christian printer, Scott Brockie in Toronto in 1996. The homosexual organization (the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives) that was “offended” by Brockie’s refusal to reprint what he (Brockie) saw as material bordering on the pornographic, knew perfectly well that he was a Christian. I believe that he was targeted, as they could have gone to any number of other businesses that would have accommodated them.

    Funny how it is almost always homosexuals who drag (mainly) Christians into these human rights kangaroo courts. For a group that forever demans “tolerance” from society, them seem pretty reluctant to show the same towards anyone who would dare to publicly disagree with them.

  4. this case is stupid if people can be pro gay people can be anti gay… just saying

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