Anti-gay flyers violated human rights code: top court
OTTAWA — A Saskatchewan anti-gay crusader says he’ll ignore a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that he violated human-rights rules when he distributed pamphlets denouncing homosexuals.
In a 6-0 decision Wednesday, the high court found 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 dismissed the ruling, insisting he won’t stop distributing material expressing his religious views.
“I believe God has called me to speak on these moral issues,” Whatcott told The Canadian Press.
“So looking at it from that perspective. I’ll likely put out another flyer articulating the Judeo-Christian viewpoint on homosexuality in my usual blunt and forthright manner.”
Whatcott also referred to the high court justices as socialists “who’ve butchered our law, or our tradition of free speech.”
“I’m not going to pay a lot of attention to it. I view this ruling as rubbish and I think that our seven Supreme Court justices are a disgrace.”
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.
Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission chief David Arnot applauded the ruling and thanked the complainants for coming forward “with courage in what was absolutely a sea of hatred to stand up for their rights.”
“It is necessary to sanction hate speech in our society and the court has been very, very clear,” Arnot said.
However, in its ruling on Wednesday, the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Saskatchewan charter.
It found that language in the code which 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.
Arnot dismissed the ruling as minor, noting that the phraseology rejected by the court hasn’t been applied in Saskatchewan in nearly two decades.
The tribunal originally ordered Whatcott to pay the four complainants a total of $17,500.
The Supreme Court decision means he’ll have to pay one complainant $2,500 and another $5,000.
Several 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 ruling provides a clearer and more narrow definition of hate speech, said the group Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.
But the organization expressed continued concern that human rights tribunals hold the ability to restrict free speech.
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.”
— With files from Jennifer Graham in Regina