Newspapers react to the Whatcott ruling

Tease the day: Editorialists go to the barricades for free speech

by Nick Taylor-Vaisey

CP/Adrian Wyld

Saskatchewan’s human rights code used to contain a provision that condemned speech that “ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons.” Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down that particular section of that particular province’s human rights code. Free-speech enthusiasts applauded. But that’s about all they applauded. This morning, Postmedia‘s Andrew Coyne leads the charge against much of what the top court ruled.

At stake here were anti-gay pamphlets distributed by William Whatcott, a man whose surname will forever be associated with free-speech wars. The court ruled that two of the pamphlets, which Whatcott passed around a decade ago, did not meet the criteria that constitute hate speech—but two others did. The court said human rights commissions can still judge what is and isn’t hate speech.

How the justices made those determinations is what really riles Coyne, who says the Supremes were so quick to limit free speech that they failed, off the top, to recognize its importance. The Post‘s Jonathan Kay says the ruling “has privileged the protection of gay Canadians over the right of religious Christians to promote what they view as the established, Biblical take on homosexuality.” Bernie Farber, the former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, wrote a dissenting view in the Toronto Star. He applauded the decision, arguing Canadians “should be proud of a court that supports the victim against the victimizer.”

Talk about free speech in Canada and you’re sure to divide a room. As for Whatcott, the conversation’s moot, as far as he’s concerned. The anti-gay crusader will continue his activism, unabated, cognizant of the potential consequences.


What’s above the fold this morning?

The Globe and Mail leads with Arthur Porter’s involvement at the confluence of an SNC-Lavalin bribery scandal and alleged corruption in Quebec’s construction industry. The National Post fronts the fraud charges levelled against Porter. The Toronto Star goes above the fold with Mayor Rob Ford’s solicitation for donations among city lobbyists. The Ottawa Citizen leads with Liberal Senator Mac Harb’s inclusion on Ottawa’s voter list—not Pembroke’s, where he claims to live. iPolitics fronts a meeting between various players in the energy industry that hopes to address a potential skills shortage. CBC.ca leads with Pope Benedict XVI’s final day in the papacy. National Newswatch showcases The Globe and Mail‘s latest look at Senators who’ve paid back expenses.


Stories that will be (mostly) missed

1. Seal hunt. An annual hunt off the coast of Cape Breton has been cancelled, a move that bolsters anti-sealing groups’ claims that the seal hunt is a dying industry in Canada. 2. Gulf drilling. A former New Brunswick energy watchdog says his planned public consultation on a sensitive project was cancelled, and its replacement might not be as rigorous.
3. American arrest. An American who was accused of causing $125,000 in damage during the 2010 G-20 summit in Toronto voluntarily turned himself over to police. 4. USB keys. A new policy at the federal department that lost private data belonging to almost 600,000 student loans borrowers mandates that bureaucrats only carry encrypted USB keys.




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Newspapers react to the Whatcott ruling

  1. Ohhhh the bigots can bash anymore or voice their intolerance for every one to see and hear so sorry.

  2. Ah serendipity! It’s one of my favourite things.

    It seems that Harper’s “mentor” and frequent CBC talking head, Tom Flanagan, has taken a flame-thrower to his career, and his reputation, by musing aloud about how those who enjoy a little child pornography aren’t really hurting anyone and should be left alone. He’s already been fired by the provincial Wild Rose party and publicly denounced by the PMO and has been widely and soundly reviled on Twitter.

    Look’s good on the creep. But how does that tie into free speech? Simple, without even the suggestion of legal consequences for an odious opinion, the man has been given a sharp, hard slap in the chops by outraged public opinion. I think it’s wonderful that the creep can express himself in public, and I think it’s wonderful that he can be so quickly and decisively shunned by public opinion.

    Update: Now he’s been fired by the CBC too.

    • And if he wrote imaginary child pornography for anything except private use, he would still be thrown in jail – THAT’S how it ties into free speech. i assume yourself, as an absolutist, are in favour of his right to do so, but most speechies are curiously silent on the issue. Ezra has certainly never been willing to touch it.

      • LOL – I love how you ignore everything I said and rush to tell me the Real Issue.

        “I don’t wanna talk about what actually happened but IF he did this… and IF he did that… then YOU would say this… and You would do that.”

        Never mind all the hypotheticals, answer me this: Do you think that Flanagan should be charged under existing speech laws? He is expressing an odious opinion and trying to persuade others to adopt that opinion. It’s an opinion that – without a doubt – could lead to harm against the most vulnerable group in society, children. So would you like to see him charged before a human rights commission or a criminal court?

        And before you accuse me of trying to dodge your question, I’ll give you an answer. I don’t think it should be a crime for a pedophile to fantasize about abusing children. I don’t think it should be a crime for two pedophiles to share their fantasies in speech or in writing. When it comes to images I begin to hesitate because modern graphics have become so sophisticated that it’s hard to tell the difference between CGI and actual photography. That’s where I would draw the line. You can write about it, if you wish, but you can not create images to share with others.

        • It certainly wasn’t hypothetical to a guy named Robin Sharpe in the early 1990s, who speechies so rarely come to the aid of or even mention. And while I appreciate you standing by your guns in support of freedom of expression on the issue, why should the state have the evil power of requiring YOU to prove an image is not a photograph, why should they not allow you to create images h and then have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt in order to jail you?

          • “reasonable limits,” “demonstrably justified”

            I just answered your question, I’m aware of the Sharpe case, and your sarcasm is inane and childish.

          • I was sincere in the second post regarding your not flip-flopping when freedom expression turned to child pornography (the first post may be a different matter, though I stand by my addition of the duh at the end).

          • This conversation is one of the few reasoned and intelligent ones I’ve seen here for some time. I admire you both as commenters, so please don’t fight and please don’t stop. Commenting, that is.

        • Since hate speech laws clearly do not cover advocating changing existing laws which don’t even involve the groups covered by the laws, your question has no meaning and should clearly be answered in the negative. duh.

          • Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive and Dodge!

          • I am sorry you feel this way. But unimpressed with your inability to understand the distinction.

          • I understand it perfectly well – you’re uncomfortable with the question and you’re avoiding it by hair splitting and evasion.

            Flanagan stated that child pornography is a victimless crime. It seems to me that this statement is clearly hateful towards the victims of childhood sexual abuse. While sexually abused children are not a “named” protected group in the Charter, the Charter protects all groups, named or not.

            I would have presumed – indeed I did presume – that you would be aware of everything in the above paragraph. So your post ending with “duh” is both factually wrong and evasive.

          • From what I have seen of his comments (in which he states he has absolutely no tolerance for child molestors, in a way which was likely not just a feint) he’s stating looking at child pornography as the victimless activity. Now clearly that’s inaccurate – at worst he doesn’t understand that making child pornogrpahy CLEARLY ABUSES A CHILD, and even if he’s talking about works made without actually involving children, obtaining the stuff creates a market for it and its continued creation for gain. Given the high bar that the supreme court made clear yesterday, I’d say he didn’t go far enough to warrant a hate-speech style conviction. Remember, you have to give people an exteremely big benefit of the doubt here.

            Your point about all groups having charter protection (probably quasi-constitutional because it’s provincial legislation remember) is an interesting one and while I am not quite committed to concluding that age could be read in as a ground of hate speech, you may very well be right and I won’t immediately discount the possibility.

        • Drawings, paintings? How are artistic renderings different from pictures painted with words?

    • You do realize that’s like someone firing you for standing up in support of freedom of expression/hate speech, right? He specifically said he didn’t engage in it, just that he didn’t think it should be illegal. Like you and hate speech.

      • No, what he said is that looking at child pornography doesn’t harm anyone. Anyone as stupid as that deserves to be fired from any job, including washing dishes or sweeping floors.

        Note also, that I have never spoken in support of hate speech or engaged in hate speech. I’ve never claimed that hate speech causes no harm. I’m not concerned about being fired for my opinions because I hold no opinions that can be misrepresented as odious, regardless of the occasional attempts at misrepresentation by some folks.

        • That’s weird, i think it’s only OK to fire him if they can make out his statements place them so far from the positions of a broadcaster and a political party anlayst that it’s reasonable (just cause). For the record, I think they can make that out. if he had one of the jobs you describe, i would only think the firing appropriate if it created sufficient workplace disturbance.

          Odd how I am the one arguing for freedom of expression now (state-sponsored vs. private actors or not).

          • Freedom of speech goes along with other freedoms – freedom of association for example. In my opinion, you should be able to say any damn fool thing you like without fear of consequence from the state. But society can, and will, react to the damn fool things you say by calling you a damn fool, or refusing to be seen with you, or by egging your house. <— this last one is a joke.

            The point I've been trying to make in this thread is that Flanagan has been corrected by his peers quickly, directly, and unequivocally. Even though I think his statements are "actionable" under existing laws, I am pleased that the immediate negative response – less than 24 hours – illustrates the point I made yesterday about Phelps. That is, freedom of speech contains it's own constraint which is the overwhelmingly negative response to an odious opinion.

          • I am glad to hear all of it, but as we discussed yesterday I also don’t feel that could preclude a legal HRC-style penalty, where warranted. Always heartwarning to see people strike back against bad stuff, but that doesn’t have to be the only penalty.

          • Did you see on Twitter, Norman Spector tried to point out that what Flanagan said is similar to what the Supremes said yesterday about hate speech. THEN Andrew Coyne told him in no uncertain terms to f*ck off. So, free speeching all over the place today. For the record, I neither agree with, nor can stand, either one of them. Flanagan either, for good measure.

  3. The Supreme’s found two of Whatcott’s four pamphlets met “the criteria that constitute hate speech” and fined him for distributing them. Then the Supreme Court published the decision on it’s web site so everybody could admire their fine work.
    The decision contains copys of all four pamphlets and they distributed them to the whole world, are they now obliged to find themselfs guilty of distributing hate speech?

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