OTTAWA, On October 13, 2011 – On Wednesday, October 12 CCRL made its intervention in the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) vs. William Whatcott. The League was represented by Ryan Dalziel of Bull, Hausser and Tupper LLP in Vancouver. Mr. Whatcott’s lawyer, Thomas A. Schuck of Saskatchewan, is a member of the League.
The case, initiated by a complaint to the SHRC by people who considered flyers distributed by Mr. Whatcott to be hateful, tests Section 14 of the province’s human rights code. In its intervention, CCRL emphasized that one need not agree with the content of the flyers (or indeed any other communication) to support the right to free speech, and that the Section of the code under which the complaint was made is inherently contradictory and impossible to enforce. (The pamphlets, distributed in Regina beginning in 2002, include some Biblical citations, contain strongly worded opinion about homosexual conduct, and criticize what Mr. Whatcott saw as the inclusion of inappropriate material about it in the local public school curriculum.)
As reported in the National Post article linked below, Mr. Dalziel spoke to this contradiction in his oral presentation. “Section 14 unintelligible, because it includes a subsection that says nothing in this section restricts freedom of expression, when it plainly does. The provision is nonsense. I have no idea what was in the mind of the draftsperson of that section,” he said.
Section 14 of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code prohibits any form of publication that “exposes or tends to expose to hatred, ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of” any person on the basis of his or her age, disability, family status, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other protected ground. Then it says that “[n]othing” in the provision “restricts the right to freedom of expression under the law upon any subject.
Because of the implications this case will have on freedom of speech, particularly of viewpoints based on religious belief, it has attracted more than 25 intervenors, including Faith and Freedom Alliance, Christian Legal Fellowship and Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, as well as several civil liberties associations and Canadian Journalists for Free Speech. The SCC will issue its decision at a later date.
Hate laws face new test at top court, National Post, October 13, 2011
Supreme Court hears religious freedom arguments against hate speech codes in Whatcott case, Catholic Register, October 17, 2011
Saskatchewan hate speech provision must be struck, says League. August press release includes link to our SCC intervention factum.
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