Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott 2013 SCC 11

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Contents

Note

Justice Rothstein, on behalf of the Supreme Court, held that "the benefits of the suppression of hate speech and its harmful effects outweigh the detrimental effect of restricting expression which, by its nature, does little to promote the values underlying freedom of expression."

The Court found that, while Section 14(1)(b) of The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code does infringe s. 2(b) of the Charter, the infringement can be justified on the grounds that it "exposes or tends to expose to hatred" a person or class of persons on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Rothstein J. also states that "the protection of vulnerable groups from the harmful effect emanating from hate speech is of such importance as to justify the minimal infringement of expression".

Background

Four complaints were filed with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission concerning four flyers published and distributed by Mr. Whatcott. The complainants alleged that the flyers promoted hatred against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation. The first two flyers were entitled “Keep Homosexuality out of Saskatoon’s Public Schools!” and “Sodomites in our Public Schools”. The other two flyers were identical to one another and were a reprint of a page of classified advertisements to which handwritten comments were added. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal held that the flyers constituted publications that contravened s. 14 (1)(b) of The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code:

14(1) No person shall publish or display, or cause or permit to be published or displayed, on any lands or premises or in a newspaper, through a television or radio broadcasting station or any other broadcasting device, or in any printed matter or publication or by means of any other medium that the person owns, controls, distributes or sells, any representation, including any notice, sign, symbol, emblem, article, statement or other representation:
(a) tending or likely to tend to deprive, abridge or otherwise restrict the enjoyment by any person or class of persons, on the basis of a prohibited ground, of any right to which that person or class of persons is entitled under law; or
(b) that exposes or tends to expose to hatred, ridicules,belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons on the basis of a prohibited ground.
(2) Nothing in subsection (1) restricts the right to freedom of expression under the law upon any subject.

The Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench upheld the tribunal's decision. The Court of Appeal accepted that the provision was constitutional but held that the flyers did not contravene it. The Supreme Court allowed the appeal, in part.

Decision Summary

Rothstein J. states that the definition of "hatred" as set out in Taylor, "with some modifications, provides a workable approach to interpreting the word "hatred" as it is used in legislative provisions prohibiting hate speech." He goes on to state that:

...the term "hatred" contained in a legislative hate speech prohibition should be applied objectively to determine whether a reasonable person, aware of the context and circumstances, would view the expression as likely to expose a person or persons to detestation and vilification on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

At para 51, Rothstein J., states:

The distinction between the expression of repugnant ideas and expression which exposes groups to hatred is crucial to understanding the proper application of hate speech prohibitions. Hate speech legislation is not aimed at discouraging repugnant or offensive ideas. It does not, for example, prohibit expression which debates the merits of reducing the rights of vulnerable groups in society. It only restricts the use of expression exposing them to hatred as a part of that debate. It does not target the ideas, but their mode of expression in public and the effect that this mode of expression may have.

Justice Rothstein goes on to state, at para 53, that "expression that targets a protected group in the context of satire, or news reports about hate speech perpetrated by someone else, would not likely constitute hate speech".


References

Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott 2013 SCC 11

Whatcott v. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal et al, 2010 SKCA 26

Whatcott v. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal et al, 2007 SKQB 450

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