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Supremes agree to hear Whatcott case

Lawyer for anti-gay leafleter says being gay leads to health problems

Bill Whatcott will get his day in court. The Supreme Court of Canada, that is.

The Supreme Court has set a date for the anti-gay activist acquitted of promoting hatred in Saskatchewan.

This fall, Whatcott, 44, of Edmonton, will be in Canada’s top court to say why he and other Canadians should be allowed to distribute anti-gay literature and speech.

“I don’t know if I planned to go to the Supreme Court. I planned to fight the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission,” says Whatcott.

In 2001 and 2002, Whatcott, a nurse by trade and a 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 that 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.”

In a phone interview with Xtra, Whatcott says he became interested in speaking out against gay groups and human rights commissions in 1995. At the time, Diane Haskett, then the mayor of London, Ontario, refused to declare gay pride. She was taken to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, where she was fined $5,000.

“[Haskett] never hid being a Christian. My concern back then was whatever your opinion of her, you’re supposed to administer law fairly. The human rights commission reserved judgment and dropped it during the election campaign. It was an attempt to sabotage her reelection. The media had a hoopla. That kind of behaviour came upon my radar. I set out to pick a fight,” says Whatcott.

Whatcott’s lawyer, Tom Schuck, has been involved in his client’s case since it began 10 years ago. While he says his client did nothing illegal, he was charged with violating the province’s human rights code when he spread hate against gays.

And Schuck also has some choice views about gays.

“There are serious physical health problems for gay and lesbian people who engage in that kind of behaviour, as well as emotional problems and psychological problems. Sexuality is not intended to be used in that fashion,” says Schuck.

One of the interveners in the case is the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. General counsel Nathalie Des Rosiers says her organization is interested in Whatcott’s case because to condemn hate speech, you need more and not less speech.

“The human rights approach in this context should be more proactive, denouncing the speech as opposed to going after him at the human rights level,” says Des Rosiers.

Originally losing at a human rights tribunal, Whatcott convinced the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal he was exercising his right to freedom of expression and religious practice. He argued that 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 a $17,500 fine for violating human rights. That decision was overturned last year, and he no longer has to pay the fine.

Whatcott wasn’t, however, successful in keeping his job as a nurse. In 2004, he was stripped of his nursing licence for picketing Planned Parenthood and was fined $15,000. He now works as a driver in the northern Alberta oil patches.

“How much did this case cost me out of pocket? I lost my career as a nurse. But I’m happy the case is going to the Supreme Court. Of course, the court is Liberal. I think we have a strong case. My problem is really how important is it to protecting people’s feelings in a vibrant debate,” says Whatcott.

The Supreme Court of Canada will hear the one-day argument Oct 12, 2011. Judgments are usually returned within eight months.