A man charged with distributing hate materials at the 2016 Toronto Pride parade has been released on bail.
Bill Whatcott, 50, was flown to Toronto from Calgary after surrendering himself to the police on June 22. He was released on bail with a number of conditions.
Whatcott is banned from much of downtown Toronto, must give up his passport, can’t be within 500 metres of any LGBT event and can’t distribute the pamphlet that he gave out during Pride.
He is also barred from contacting the four plaintiffs who are suing Whatcott in a related civil case, three of whom are also criminal complainants in this case.
Crown lawyer Jennifer Epstein told the court that there had been death threats against some of the complainants since the charges against Whatcott became public.
The flyers distributed by Whatcott and others in 2016 contained a photo of anal warts and a man covered in AIDS-related lesions, claiming that the “gay zombies” were concerned for the health of homosexuals.
Whatcott has engaged in public anti-LGBT demonstrations across Canada for decades. In 2013, he lost a Supreme Court appeal of a Saskatchewan human rights tribunal verdict against him for distributing similar flyers.
The charges against Whatcott are unusual — criminal prosecutions for hate speech are rare — and required the personal sign-off of Ontario attorney general Yasir Naqvi.
Daniel Santoro, Whatcott’s lawyer, questioned why Whatcott, who has no criminal record, had to be flown out to Toronto and held in custody over the weekend.
He noted that the charge stems from an incident that occurred two years ago and is the subject of an ongoing civil lawsuit.
“This charge has come basically out of the blue,” he said.
Whatcott admits that he distributed the pamphlets during the 2016 Toronto Pride parade. His trial will hinge on the question of whether those materials are criminally hateful.
“I believe this is an illegitimate charge,” Whatcott told Xtra after he was released from custody. “I would like to believe that at least a minority of homosexuals understand that this is not the way to advance your cause.”
Whatcott was not the only person who distributed the pamphlets during the 2016 Toronto Pride parade. While he refuses to divulge their identities, an Ontario Superior Court judge has ordered him to identify his associates and their financial backers.
Whatcott will return to court on July 23 to set a trial date.