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Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v Whatcott

posted Mar 7, 2013, 6:49 PM by Ciara Sebastian
Last week’s decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in a case called Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott upheld the constitutionality of the so-called “hate speech” provisions of TheSaskatchewan Human Rights Code, although finding a phrase in the Code to be invalid.  The case makes a distinction between speech that is only offensive and that which incites hatred.  The Supreme Court held that this limitation on free speech is demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society under s. 1 of the Charter.

Whatcott had been distributing flyers equating homosexuals with carriers of disease, sex addicts, pedophiles and predators who would proselytize vulnerable children and cause their premature death.  The court said these flyers would objectively be seen as exposing homosexuals to detestation and vilification. They also expressly called for discriminatory treatment of those of same-sex orientation.  As is the case with the law of discrimination generally, it doesn’t matter what Whatcott intended by the distribution of these flyers.  The important question to be asked is what is their likely effect.

Recent media reports state that Whatcott continues to distribute the flyers and has explicitly said he will not comply with the Court’s decision.  Some argue that we should ignore him and he'll go away; however, if there are no consequences the law is meaningless. 

For an interesting and more comprehensive article on the legal issues involved, see
Ross Mcnab's perspective.