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Canada’s top court to hear anti-gay leaflet case

UPDATE: Homosexuality ranks with drug abuse and alcoholism says Whatcott

The Supreme Court of Canada has decided to hear the case of an Edmonton anti-gay activist accused of promoting hatred in Saskatchewan nearly a decade ago.

In 2001 and 2002, Bill Whatcott, 43, a nurse by trade and former Regina mayoral candidate, distributed flyers in Regina and Saskatoon on behalf of the Christian Truth Activists group. These pamphlets used graphic language to warn people school children were being taught propaganda about gay people.

As a result, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) received four complaints alleging Whatcott’s material violated human rights laws because it “promotes hatred against individuals based on their sexual orientation.”

Originally losing at a human rights tribunal, Whatcott was able to convince the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal he was exercising his right to freedom of expression and religious practice. He argued if his flyers showed hate, it was directed toward gay sexual behaviour, which is not a prohibited ground of discrimination. In 2005, he was ordered to pay complainants James Komar of Saskatoon, and Guy Taylor, Kathy Hamre and Brendan Wallace of Regina $17,500, fine for violating human rights but that was overturned this year and he no longer has to pay it.

The commission is challenging a Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruling that sided with Whatcott by concluding that his distribution of flyers denouncing “sodomites in our public schools” is a permissible contribution to public policy discussion.

SHRC chief commissioner judge David Arnot said he’s pleased the Supreme Court will hear the case.
“This case is about the power of words to maim,” Arnot says in a news release…. “In this appeal, we will be asking the court for guidance on where the line should be drawn between extreme speech and the right of citizens to express their beliefs freely,” he adds.

Arnot notes that it has been 20 years since the Supreme Court of Canada last ruled on the balance between freedom of expression and freedom from discrimination.

“In this appeal, we will be asking the court for guidance on where the line should be drawn between extreme speech and the right of citizens to express their beliefs freely,” he adds.

“I think if you replaced the word ‘gay’ with reference to any racial minority it would be seen as a definite violation of human rights legislation,” says Hamre. “There seems to be a double standard when it comes to gay and lesbian people.”

In a phone interview with Xtra, Whatcott talks about his history of being an anti-gay activist.

Originally born in Toronto, he lived in London, Ontario, and grew up in foster homes. He says he went through the prison system until he became a Christian. He now has three children and works in oil field transportation.

Whatcott does not deny what he penned on brochures and distributed in Regina and Saskatoon in 2001 and 2002, saying “Our children will pay the price in disease, death, abuse and ultimately eternal judgment if we do not say no to the sodomite desire to socialize your children into accepting something that is clearly wrong.” With a group of volunteers, he put out the flyers which he penned them. In case anyone wanted to contact him, he included his name and contact information.

“My flyers were theological and health-based as to why homosexuality shouldn’t be promoted in the public health system,” says Whatcott.

As to why he actually had a problem with gays being included in the school system, he says he had a problem with the lifestyle being normalized with students. He ranks homosexuality with “alcoholism and drug abuse” and “it has no place in the school system.”

“As a Christian, I am my brother’s keeper. I wouldn’t mind it being portrayed in schools if students were educated about the diseases related to the lifestyle. And letting students know there are people who leave the lifestyle successfully,” says Whatcott.

In 2004, Whatcott was stripped of his nursing licence for picketing Planned Parenthood and gave him a $15,000 fine, which he calls “pretty draconian stuff.” He says being in Regina news brought people anonymously putting gay pride stickers on his mailbox. He says he never paid any fines for his activism and the Saskatchewan high court allowed him to have his job back, but he is happy where he is now.

“I never pay fines as a result of my activism. I choose to lose my job or sit in jail. I don’t like the oppression. I don’t like that Christians aren’t allowed to speak about these issues, or given parameters. If you grow up in public schools thinking Christians are bigoted, you might think they’re like White Supremacists,” says Whatcott.

Whatcott says he doesn’t think his activism is based on any left or right political spectrum. He says he is fighting for free speech, saying if you censor your opponents you censor yourself.

“It does come to back to bite you whether you’re right or left. Many people use the state to silence things they disagree with. Once you start putting rules on what people say, where do you stop?” says Whatcott.

For the last decade the case has been in the courts, the most recent decision coming in February from the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, which ruled Whatcott’s pamphlets were protected as free speech.

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada granted leave to the Human Rights Commission for an appeal. The issue at stake is whether sexual practices are included in Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission’s protection based on sexual orientation, and, if so, to what extent.

The Supreme Court of Canada has not set a court date.

1 NOV 2010 – The Supreme Court of Canada has decided to hear the case of an Edmonton anti-gay activist accused of promoting hatred in Saskatchewan nearly a decade ago.

In 2001 and 2002, Bill Whatcott, a nurse by trade and former mayoral candidate, distributed flyers in Regina and Saskatoon on behalf of the Christian Truth Activists group. Some of these pamphlets contained the words “Our children will pay the price in disease, death, abuse and ultimately eternal judgment if we do not say no to the sodomite desire to socialize your children into accepting something that is clearly wrong.”

These pamphlets also warned people that school children were being taught propaganda about gay people.

As a result, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission received four complaints alleging Whatcott’s material violated human rights laws because it “promotes hatred against individuals based on their sexual orientation.”

Originally losing at a human rights tribunal, Whatcott won at the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, where he argued he was exercising his right to freedom of expression and practice of religion. He argued that if his flyers showed hate, it was directed toward gay sexual behaviour, which is not a prohibited ground of discrimination.

In the original 2005 decision, he was ordered to pay a $17,000 fine, but that was overturned this year and he no longer has to pay it.

The issue at stake is whether sexual practices are included in the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission’s protection based on sexual orientation, and, if so, to what extent.

The Supreme Court of Canada has not set a court date.  

Xtra requested an interview with Whatcott, but it has not yet been confirmed.  

Landing photo courtesy of the City of Regina