OTTAWA, June 14, 2011 – The Catholic Civil Rights League has been granted leave to intervene in the Supreme Court of Canada appeal between the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and William Whatcott, who has faced numerous human rights filings in Saskatchewan because of his public leafleting and picketing on various homosexual rights questions.
The appeal was initiated by the SHRC when its decision against Whatcott was thrown out by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. The SHRC brought Whatcott before the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal in 2006 over his practice of distributing flyers outlining his opinion about the dangers of abortion and homosexuality. It launched its case following several complaints over a series of flyers that he had delivered in Saskatoon and Regina in 2001 and 2002. The Tribunal found that Whatcott had violated section 14(1)(b) of the province’s human rights code, which prohibits speech 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.” He was ordered to pay a $17,500 fine and to cease publicly spreading his beliefs about homosexuality.
The Tribunal decision was upheld in 2007 by the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, but it was overturned February 25th by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. Justice Darla Hunter ruled that Whatcott had not violated the human rights code, and that the Tribunal decision unjustly limited freedom of expression. “It is acceptable, in a democracy, for individuals to comment on the morality of another’s behaviour,” she wrote. “Anything that limits debate on the morality of behaviour is an intrusion on the right to freedom of expression.”
In its application for leave to intervene, the League noted its long-standing opposition to Section 14 and its counterparts in other provinces. “In the CCRL’s view, hate speech should be a matter solely for the courts in criminal cases; government tribunals ought not to be permitted to regulate expression. Of particular concern to the CCRL have been the instances where human rights commissions have labeled the expression of unpopular opinions as “hate speech”, and thereby penalized those expressive activities. The burden of human rights commissions’ intervention in the marketplace of ideas is, in the CCRL’s assessment, felt particularly by religious communities, since allegations of “hate speech” often involve opinions based on religious beliefs,” the application stated.
“None of this is to say that the CCRL endorses or approves of the ideas and messages that have been, or may one day be, censured under s. 14 or its equivalents. The CCRL does not propose to intervene in this appeal to defend the merits of Mr. Whatcott’s views, or the language he chose to express those views. The CCRL seeks to ensure that the fundamental right to freedom of expression, and the citizen’s freedom of conscience and religion, are given both a broad interpretation and a robust application, as required by the Constitution.”
Other intervenors include the Christian Legal Fellowship, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Faith and Freedom Alliance.