OTTAWA, August 11, 2011 – The Catholic Civil Rights League, intervenor in the Supreme Court of Canada Appeal of the case between William Whatcott and the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, has filed its factum in the case and made it available online. Download factum here.
The appeal aims to strike down Section 14 of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, which restricts freedom of expression. The outcome could have long-range implications for the public expression of opinion based on religious belief.
The appeal was initiated by the SHRC when its decision against Whatcott was thrown out by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal (League press releases, June 14). 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.”
Whatcott case could determine fate of religious freedom and free expression, Catholic Register, July 7, 2011