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Supreme Court could hear anti-gay flyer case

Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission seeks leave to appeal Bill Whatcott decision to top court

Bill Whatcott

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has announced that it will be seeking leave to appeal the Bill Whatcott decision to the Supreme Court.

In 2005, a Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Whatcott had violated the Saskatchewan Human Rights code and ordered him to pay $17,500 to the four people who had filed complaints to compensate for “loss of their dignity, self-respect and hurt feelings.” The four complainants, Guy Taylor and James Komar of Saskatoon, and Kathy Hamre and Brendan Wallace of Regina, filed their complaints after receiving anti-gay flyers in their mailboxes or slipped under the door of their apartment.

Whatcott appealed the tribunal ruling to the Court of Queen’s Bench and was supported in his appeal by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Constitution Foundation. In 2007, that Court upheld the tribunal ruling.

Once again, Whatcott appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals which overturned the conviction in February of this year. “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 ruling was in error because it did not take into account Whatcott’s right to freedom of expression.

Whatcott, who’s originally from Ontario, freely admits that he once had sex with other men to get money to support his drug habit. In 1989, he says he found God and has since become a self-described Christian activist, picketing against abortion and distributing flyers denouncing homosexuality.

After obtaining his Licensed Practical Nursing degree from Humber College, Whatcott moved to Regina, where he launched his Christian Truth Activists group and began his mission of distributing flyers denouncing homosexuality. His crude photocopied flyers usually contain lurid titles such as “Sodomites in our Public Schools,” “Keep Homosexuality out of Saskatoon’s Public Schools” and “Kill the Homosexuals.” He claims the latter is a take-off on the song “Kill the Christians” by the death metal band Deicide. That flyer brought about a number of complaints to Edmonton police who investigated it as a hate crime but ultimately took no action.

In his flyers, Whatcott makes numerous dubious statements about queer people, although his focus is almost exclusively on gay men. One flyer states “Sodomites are 430 times more likely to acquire Aids and 3 times more likely to sexually abuse children!” while another states “If Saskatchewan’s sodomites have their way, your school board will be celebrating buggery too!”

Whatcott delights in using the term “sodomite” and inevitably includes photos in his flyers of what he claims are naked men marching in Pride parades or having public sex. Over the past decade, he has distributed his anti-gay flyers in cities across Saskatchewan, and when he moved from Saskatchewan to Alberta a few years back he added Alberta cities as locations from which to distribute his anti-gay diatribes. He has shown up at numerous gay Pride parades as well as other gay events with placards denouncing sodomites and was granted a permit by Regina City Council to hold a Heterosexual Pride Parade in 2001. That parade was used as another vehicle to condemn queer people, resulting in the Regina City Council refusing his request the following year for another parade.

Brendan Wallace, one of the four complainants against Whatcott, says he was pleased to hear the Commission will seek leave to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. “I’d like to have a decision made about what can be said about gay people and what can be delivered to my door,” Wallace said. “I have the right to protect myself and my family against what is being delivered to my door. If Whatcott’s flyers made similar comments about people of colour or aboriginal people, there would be a huge outcry about his actions.”

Another complainant agrees with Wallace. “I’m pleased to hear that the Commission will be applying to the Supreme Court for a final decision on my complaint,” said Guy Taylor. “One of the reasons I filed my complaint was to have the courts establish the line on what is fair comment about queer people and what is hate speech. I find it ironic that there is a national discussion occurring on the negative impact of bullying, but Mr Whatcott is allowed to continue to spread his hate, which I can only see as a means of bullying people who he doesn’t agree with. While I believe in free speech, I don’t think that should include spreading hate that only perpetuates the homophobia that permeates our society and causes untold pain and suffering for many people.”

“On average, less than 10 percent of applications to appeal to the Supreme Court are accepted by the court,” Janice Gingell, senior staff solicitor for the SHRC, wrote in a letter to the four complainants. “The Supreme Court only hears cases of national importance. We assess our chances as higher than 10 percent because we believe the regulation of hate speech by human rights commissions is of national importance. Ultimately whether leave is granted will depend on whether the Court wishes to consider this issue at this point in time.”

Gingell says the Supreme Court will likely make a decision whether to hear the appeal within six months. “If accepted, this appeal will likely attract national attention,” Gingell wrote in her letter to the complainants. “Much of that will be unpleasant, however I anticipate that most of the negativity will be directed at the Commission rather than you as complainants,” she added.