This case concerned the prohibition of hate speech under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
LEAF intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada.
John Ross Taylor and Western Guard Party distributed cards inviting calls to a Toronto telephone number. When the number was dialed, callers would hear recorded messages containing harmful statements about the Jewish race and religion.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission received complaints about the messages, and established a tribunal. The tribunal concluded that the messages were discriminatory practices under s. 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which stated that communicating messages likely to expose a person or group to hatred based on race or religion was discrimination. It ordered Taylor and the Western Guard Party to stop the communications. However, they continued and were found to be in contempt of the order. The party was fined, and Taylor served a one-year sentence of imprisonment.
Several years later, the Commission filed a new application with the Federal Court, saying that messages continued to be distributed in breach of the order. Taylor and the Western Guard Party argued that s. 13(1) of the Act violated their rights to free expression under s. 2(b) of the Charter. The Federal Court rejected that argument, and found Taylor and the Western Guard Party to be in contempt. The Federal Court of Appeal dismissed their appeal. Taylor and the Western Guard Party appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
LEAF submitted that the repeated telephonic communication of hate messages is not protected expression under section 2(b) of the Charter. As a recognized practice of discrimination, such communications promote inequality and are inconsistent with the reasons expression is protected. LEAF further argued that if the Charter is read purposively (as it was intended) and as a whole, sections 15 and 28 support the constitutionality of section 13(1) prior to reaching section 1.
A majority of the Supreme Court of Canada found that s. 13(1) of the Act violated s. 2(b) of the Charter, but it was a reasonable limit on freedom of expression. The provision’s objective, to prevent the harm caused by hate propaganda, was of significant importance, and the provision was not overly broad or too vague.
LEAF is grateful to Kathleen Mahoney and Linda Taylor, counsel in this case.
Download the factum here.
Read the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision here.
Our records are imperfect, but we are doing our best to update them – if you were involved with LEAF on this case but your name is not reflected here, please email us at [email protected].