OTTAWA, January 7, 2011 – The Catholic Civil Rights League is pleased to learn that the Supreme Court of Canada has granted leave to William Whatcott to challenge the constitutionality of Section 14 (1) (b) of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. The case raises important principles of freedom of religion and free speech.
It is that section that allows the commission to charge people with hate speech for distributing material that “exposes or tends to expose to hatred, ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons on the basis of a prohibited ground.” Mr. Whatcott was convicted under that section for distributing material objecting to content relating to homosexuality taught within the Saskatoon Public School system. The conviction was reversed in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal and the Human Rights Commission of Saskatchewan is appealing it to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“Although we feel confident that the Court of Appeal decision will not be reversed, we felt it would be prudent to challenge the validity of the law. The Supreme Court in the past has placed a very high value to freedom of speech in Canada, and this freedom has been eroded through the power granted Human Rights Commissions across Canada. What has been the traditional Christian message on appropriate sexual conduct, has now morphed into being characterized as hate speech”, said Mr. Whatcott’s lawyer, Tom Schuck of Weyburn, Sask.
The Court of Appeal decision established the precedent that one could criticize the morality of homosexual behaviour without fear of prosecution by Human Rights Commissions. “The earlier decision enabled HRCs to move aggressively in the prosecution of other Christian people, including Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary, and Rev. Stephen Boissoin, an Evangelical minister in Red Deer, for criticizing same sex behaviour,” said Mr. Schuck.
“In the Supreme Court we will be arguing that HRCs ought to remain neutral on important moral issues of the day”, Mr. Schuck said, “and let society through the use of free speech reach its own consensus as to the appropriateness of different forms of sexual behaviour. HRCs have an obligation to protect freedom of religion…not impose their own morality on the rest of us.”
It should be noted that the next provision in the Code (Section 14 (2)) serves to support free speech and effectively summarizes the position of the League: “Nothing in subsection 1 restricts the right to freedom of expression under the law upon any subject.”