Monday March 1, 2010

Sask. Court Overturns Human Rights Ruling against Anti-Homosexuality Activist

By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

REGINA, March 1, 2010 ( – Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal has ruled that an anti-homosexaulity activist did not violate the province’s human rights code by publicly criticizing homosexuality through a series of flyers he distributed in Saskatoon and Regina in 2001 and 2002.

Bill Whatcott was charged with spreading hate against homosexual persons for the distribution of material objecting to an advertisement that ran in Saskatchewan’s largest newspaper for homosexuals, ‘Perceptions.’ The ad was a classified personal advertisement that ran, “searching for boys/men for pen pals, friendship, exchanging video, pics… Your age, look & nationality is not so relevant,” according to the Western Standard.

The flyers distributed by Mr. Whatcott also objected to material promoting “gay” culture and beliefs entering into the Saskatoon Public School System and the University of Saskatchewan.

In her decision in Whatcott v. Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal et al., released February 25, Justice Darla Hunter ruled that Whatcott did not violate section 14(1)(b) of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code by distributing flyers to oppose the teaching of homosexuality in Saskatoon’s public schools.

The court overturned the 2006 Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal ruling that ordered Mr. Whatcott to pay $17,500 to the complainants, to compensate for “loss of their dignity, self-respect and hurt feelings,” and imposed a “lifetime” ban on his freedom to publicly criticize homosexuality.

This ruling also quashed the subsequent appeal decision by the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench that upheld the Tribunal ruling.

“Many people would find some of the words he uses in his flyers to be crude, offensive and pejorative,” noted Justice Hunter. However, she said the previous rulings erred by not taking into account Whatcott’s right to freedom of expression and by failing to examine the context and the circumstances in which the publications were made and distributed.

“Context is of particular importance when considering complaints based on sexual orientation and the impact on freedom of expression,” the judge wrote.

“It is acceptable, in a democracy, for individuals to comment on the morality of another’s behaviour. … Anything that limits debate on the morality of behaviour is an intrusion on the right to freedom of expression.”

Two civil liberties groups, the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), were interveners in the case, and both praised the court’s decision as a victory for free speech.

“CCLA appeared before the Court to advocate for a robust protection for freedom of expression,” the group said in a statement. “While strongly repudiating Mr. Whatcott’s statements, CCLA nonetheless believes that a strong democracy must have a high degree of tolerance for debates about moral issues, even when expressed in polemical terms, provided the speaker does not engage in violence, incitement to violence, or threats.”

“This court decision is good news for free speech,” stated lawyer John Carpay, Executive Director of the CCF, which intervened in support of the right of citizens to express their religious and political opinions on matters of public policy.

“Unfortunately, the court did not strike down the restrictions on free speech. But nothing prevents our federal and provincial politicians from repealing these laws,” concluded Mr. Carpay.

The full text of the Saskatchewan Appeal Court’s decision, which includes copies of Mr. Whatcott’s flyers, is available here.

Read previous LSN coverage:

Catholic Activist “Banned for life” From Publicly Criticising Homosexuality