This case concerned the prohibition of hate speech under the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code

LEAF intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada. 

Facts 

William Whatcott published four flyers under the name of Christian Truth Activists, which he placed in mailboxes in homes in Saskatoon and Regina. The flyers contained homophobic messages including “Keep Homosexuality out of Saskatoon’s Public Schools!” and “Sodomites in our Public Schools” and referring to LGBTQ persons as “dirty,” “filthy,” “degenerate” and as pedophiles.  

Four complaints were made to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) alleging that the flyers promoted hatred against individuals because of their sexual orientation in violation of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code (the Code). The Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal found that the flyers constituted hate speech. The Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench upheld this finding. The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, however, held that the flyers did not contravene the Code and found that, in the context of a debate about policy and morality, the flyers could not be considered a hate publication. The SHRC appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

Arguments 

LEAF argued that the harms of hate speech are far-reaching, causing deep harm to targeted vulnerable groups, and to individuals and society at large. The prohibition on hate speech in the Code was constitutional, and an important and logical component of building an inclusive, non-discriminatory community. The narrow interpretation of the prohibition achieved a careful and appropriate balance among freedom of expression and equality-related Charter guarantees. And the prohibition allowed for women’s access to justice, providing recourse to women targeted by hate speech. 

Outcome 

The Supreme Court held that the Code’s prohibition on hate speech, aside from a small portion which was overbroad, was constitutional. It held that two of the flyers constituted prohibited hate speech, but the other two, while offensive, did not demonstrate hatred.   

LEAF is grateful to Jo-Ann Kolmes and Kathleen Mahoney, counsel in this case, as well as Nadia Effendi, Ottawa agent for LEAF.

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].