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Sask court upholds free speech in anti-gay flyer decision

Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal has ruled that a social conservative activist did not violate the province’s human rights code by distributing anti-gay flyers.

In 2001 and 2002, Bill Whatcott distributed a series of four flyers in Regina and Saskatoon, including “Keep homosexuality out of Saskatoon’s Public Schools” and “Sodomites in our Public Schools!” The entire contents of the flyers can be read in the court ruling here (PDF).

Four people launched complaints against Whatcott, alleging that the flyers promoted “hatred against individuals because of their sexual orientation.” In 2005, a tribunal ruled that Whatcott had violated the province’s human rights code and ordered him to pay $17,500 to the complainants, to compensate for “loss
of their dignity, self-respect and hurt feelings.”

The Court of Queen’s Bench upheld the tribunal’s decision in 2007. 

Bill Whatcott

But this week, the Court of Appeal set aside the previous rulings.

"Many people would find some of the words he uses in his flyers to be crude, offensive and pejorative,” noted Justice Darla Hunter. But Hunter said the previous rulings erred by not taking into account Whatcott’s right to freedom of expression.

Civil liberties groups — including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Constitution Foundation — intervened in the case. They praised the court’s decision as a victory for free speech.

"While strongly repudiating Mr Whatcott’s statements, CCLA nonetheless
believes that a strong democracy must have a high degree of tolerance
for debates about moral issues, even when expressed in polemical terms,
provided the speaker does not engage in violence, incitement to
violence, or threats,” says a CCLA statement

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