The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) applauds the affirmation by the Supreme Court of Canada in its judgment in Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission v. Whatcott, released today, that hate speech causes deep harm to vulnerable groups and to society at large, and that hate speech prohibitions in human rights legislation are justified.
“This is a major moment for the Charter and for all Canadians. LEAF welcomes the SCC’s recognition that hate speech is a form of discrimination that harms not only the targeted group, but all of society,” says Jennifer Tomaszewski, Chair of the LEAF Board. “Limits on hate speech directed against vulnerable groups are critical to ensuring an inclusive Canadian society that respects equality.”
Also welcomed in the judgment are the Court’s conclusions that:
- freedom of expression is enhanced when equality rights are respected
- hate speech represses expression by targeted groups
- hate speech delivered in a religious or political context will not be insulated from hate speech laws.
“Canada is respected world-wide for our visionary Charter of Rights and Freedomsand for the Supreme Court’s interpretation and application of it,” says Ms. Tomaszewski. “This decision has reinforced the importance of equality for all Canadians.”
LEAF’s arguments in this case focused on hate speech as a form of discrimination and the multiple ways that hate speech harms women, especially amplified at the intersection of race, sexual orientation, class, ethnicity or other status. In its decision, the Supreme Court referenced international incidents of genocidal acts to illustrate the ultimate risk posed by hate speech.
LEAF has a long history of equality analysis and advocacy with respect to the importance of statutory limitations on hate speech. LEAF intervened in the landmark Supreme Court of Canada hate speech cases of R. v. Keegstra and Taylor v. The Canadian Human Rights Commission in 1990, both of which were relied on and affirmed in the Whatcott judgment.
LEAF’s co-counsel on the intervention were Jo-Ann Kolmes of Edmonton, Alberta, and Prof. Kathleen E. Mahoney of the Faculty of Law of the University of Calgary.
LEAF’s factum in Whatcott v. Saskatchewan is available at www.leaf.ca.
For further information:
Jo-Ann Kolmes, LEAF co-counsel
Jennifer Tomaszewski, LEAF Board Chair