Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission v. William Whatcott [2011-2013]

27 February 2013

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada was granted leave to intervene by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission v. William Whatcott case which was heard on October 12, 2011. This case involves the expression of religious comment in public policy dialogue.

The EFC, along with a large number of other interveners, was granted permission to make written and verbal arguments to the Court. The EFC's arguments were made by EFC Vice-President and General Legal Counsel, Don Hutchinson. 

The EFC intervened out of concern that if the Court rules that one cannot act in a non-harmful way in public discourse based on one’s foundational religious beliefs then one does not actually have religious freedom, but only freedom to believe.

Case Summary

As part of a group called the Christian Truth Activists, Mr. Whatcott distributed flyers to homes in Regina and Saskatoon in 2001 and 2002. The flyers contained vehement comments about the sexual practices of same-sex couples. They also shared Mr. Whatcott’s views  on morality, sexual behavior and public policy.  They expressed his opposition to school children being taught about homosexuality, criticized homosexual behavior as well as the advertising practices of a gay magazine.

The flyers prepared and distributed by Mr. Whatcott reflect his religious beliefs.

 Some recipients of the flyers filed complaints and Mr. Whatcott was subject to legal proceedings before the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal. The Tribunal found that he had contravened section 14(1)(b) of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code as the material ‘promotes hatred against individuals because of their sexual orientation’. The Tribunal ordered Mr. Whatcott to pay a total of $17,500 to four complainants who were offended by his flyers, and ordered him to refrain from distributing the same flyers or similar flyers. This decision was rendered on May 2nd, 2005. On December 11, 2007, the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench upheld the decision of the Tribunal. 

On February 25th, 2010, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal overturned the ruling of the Tribunal and the decision of the Court of Queen’s Bench. The Court of Appeal felt that the error of the Tribunal and the lower court where that statements of the flyers were not analyzed in context of the scheme of the Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms jurisprudence, and the context in which the statements were published. The Court ruled that the flyers did not violate s. 14(1)(b) of the Code and that the appeal should be allowed.

On April 23rd, 2010, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. On October 28th, 2010, leave to appeal was granted.

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