Canadian Supreme Court Rules Anti-Gay Pamphlets Are Hate Speech. Defendant Fined $17,000

William WhatcottIn a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that graphic flyers distributed in Regina and Saskatoon by anti-gay activist Bill Whatcott constituted hate speech. It ordered Whatcott to pay $17,000 to four individuals who filed complaints against him.

A high-profile anti-gay activist up north, Whatcott stuffed mailboxes with flyers depicting diseases allegedly caused by gay sex.

A court of appeals had previously overturned the conviction of Whatcott, who held a Heterosexual Pride Day parade in 2001.

The Supreme Court agreed that Saskatchewan’s human-rights code went too far by outlawing speech that “ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity” of groups based on race, sexual orientation or other protected classes.

But the judges upheld the ban on speech that is “likely to expose” certain groups to hatred: “[The law] appropriately balances the fundamental values underlying freedom of expression with competing Charter rights and other values essential to a free and democratic society, in this case a commitment to equality and respect for group identity and the inherent dignity owed to all human beings,” wrote Mr. Justice Marshall Rothstein.

Is it a good idea to limit free speech to this extent, or could it open LGBT citizens to complaints by religious bigots? Exercise your free speech in the comments section below!

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  • Shanestud

    The Canadian Supreme Court also eloquently said in its ruling:

    Hate speech, the court said, is intended to “delegitimize” its target in the eyes of the majority and reduce their acceptance within society.

    It goes beyond causing distress to individual group members, and “can have a societal impact,” Justice Rothstein wrote.
    “Hate speech lays the groundwork for later, broad attacks on vulnerable groups that can range from discrimination, to ostracism, segregation, deportation, violence and, in the most extreme cases, to genocide.” It has an impact on a protected groups’s ability to respond to debate, and is a barrier to their participation in democracy”

    Justice Marshall Rothstein also addressed the issue of “religious freedom” and the bible used to attack gays:

    The flyers had many of the “hallmarks” of hatred, wrote Rothstein, targeting gays as a menace that could threaten the safety and well-being of others, referring to respected sources like the Bible to lend credibility, and using “vilifying and derogatory representations to create a tone of hatred.”

    In other words, you can’t use your religion and the bible to publicly promote hate and bigoted behaviour. Good for you Canada!!

  • Dakotahgeo

    Good for the Supreme Court of Canada! Canada has always been, and always will be light years ahead of the USA. Sad, eh?

  • viveutvivas

    Well yes, but on the other hand, Canadian customs are still seizing material with gay and lesbian themes imported by gay booksellers at the discretion of individual customs agents, with the blessing of the Supreme Court. This is often non-pornographic material widely available and legal in the U.S.

  • Gigi Gee

    “Is it a good idea to limit free speech to this extent, or could it open LGBT citizens to complaints by religious bigots?”

    Bigots, religious or otherwise, will always complain. Nice to see that the Supreme Court of Canada recognizes that hate speech does harm to people.

  • Shanestud


    Could you provide a specific court decision for your claim.
    I know some custom agents in British Columbia were halting some shipments but I don’t believe it’s now a universal practice all across Canada “with the blessing of the Supreme Court”. Never heard reports about halted shipments in Toronto or Montreal. Love to read the court decision you referenced.

  • swoeck

    I for one do not listen to hate speech on the street or other places. I do not need the courts to protect me from another persons opinion. I am glad that we have freedom of speech in the USA, even if people use it in a stupid way. That is what will keep a society free for one to be able to express an opinion no matter how stupid it is.

  • jwrappaport

    @Dakotahgeo: I have to say, I think you’re dead wrong. Despite her problems, there is not a country in the world that respects free speech as much as the US. (To anyone who disagrees – I welcome a counterexample.) Have you read “A Man For All Seasons”? I quote it all the time in free speech arguments, but it seems apt both in the context of this one and to a man of faith like yourself. There’s a scene where Sir Thomas More is being asked the age old question of whether the ends justify the means, specifically whether or not he would break the law to destroy the devil. Roper voices an unequivocal yes, offering to “cut down every law in England” – More’s rebuke is divine:

    “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”

    I let the bigots hide behind free speech laws precisely because I want the privilege to do the same should they ever be in power.

  • viveutvivas

    “After years of this arbitrary and discriminatory treatment, Little Sisters and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association challenged the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Customs Act on the basis that it violated Little Sisters’ freedom of expression and equality rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A trial judge agreed that the legislation was discriminatory but held that it was justified under section 1 of the Charter. The B.C. Court of Appeal upheld that decision.

    On December 14, 2000, the Supreme Court of Canada allowed Little Sisters’ appeal in part. It held that the reverse onus provisions of the Customs Act, which required book importers to prove that a publication was not obscene, was unconstitutional. It also recognized that Little Sisters had been singled out by Canada Customs for discriminatory treatment. However, it held that the discrimination did not result from the Customs Act itself, but from the people administering the Act. The Court confirmed that Customs agents have no right to seize material that does not come within the narrow definition of pornography that Parliament has criminalized as obscene. However, the basic scheme of the Act, with the exception of the reverse onus provisions, was a reasonable limit on the right to freedom of expression.”

    “In fact, in the years following the Supreme Court’s decision, Customs continued to arbitrarily seize publications headed for Little Sisters.”

  • Shanestud


    Thanks for that 2000 decision regarding the customs officials in BC. The onus was put on the custom agents at that border. In the last thirteen years there have not been any reported incidents of material being denied access to the Canadian consumers. I don’t take it to mean that the Supreme Court of Canada has “given their blessing” to seizing gay or lesbian themed material.

  • Little-Kiwi

    It seems some Americans don’t understand Canada’s very specific and EXPLICIT hate speech laws.

    it’s not “mean speech” or “controversial speech” – it’s discernible hate speech.

    so, when i hear some of you say “i I want the privilege to do the same should they ever be in power”, you’re completely wrong.

    what is, “the same”? to target a specific group and incite hate toward them? won’t happen.

    it’s not about “the freedom to say whatever you want” – it’s specifically about inciting hatred against a designated group, whose safety and wellbeing would be compromised by the SPECIFIC speech you’re trying to spread.

    we canadians understand this.

  • Dakotahgeo

    @Little-Kiwi: Your comment is more what I had in mind when I made my comment above. Free speech not withstanding, the USA is still light years behind in the GLBT issues, but thankfully we’re getting it together by and by. Many changes are about to take place, thankfully toward positive solutions, legally.


    PLEASE! Just not the FUCKING Christian again!.

  • Avenger

    If you so much as frown at somebody in Canada, they consider that a “hate crime.” Bunch of kooks.

  • ait10101

    @Dakotahgeo: I understood your original post fine. I think it is important to note that the Supreme Court decision was very nuanced. It found certain parts of some of the flyers were hate speech, not just things that were offensive; it imposed limits, so that only hate speech that objectively exposes people to violence and discrimination, vilification and detestation will be prohibited. The entire decision, including the offending material, is here: The decision was unanimous.

    Avenger is very far off base in his comment no. 13.

  • Billysees

    It’s a shame that all religious folk, namely christians is this case, can’t see the importance of implementing something Paul wrote —

    “Follow after the things that make for peace.”

    They would set an excellent example if they did.

  • Dakotahgeo

    @Avenger: Lolol. I have way too many friends in Canada to know that that is simply not true. Canadians are the friendliest people on earth. Do they have kooks? Does the USA have kooks? (The whole southern tier of states, by and large). Every country has those people who we wished to high heaven would move somewhere else.

    In #15 above, Billysees has exactly the correct spelling for these right wing nuts… christians. They certainly are not related to the true Christians who attempt and succeed in treating all people equally. The Apostle Paul was exactly mark on the spot… a true Christian!

  • Dakotahgeo

    @Billysees: You have exactly the correct spelling for these right wing nuts… christians. They certainly are not related to the true Christians who attempt and succeed in treating all people equally. The Apostle Paul was exactly mark on the spot… although as a Christian, he had some very serious misinterpretations of Christ’s teachings, i.e., womens’ roles in church, homosexuality, among his worst faux pas. Thanks for your comment.

  • miagoodguy

    One of the draw backs of Canada is that they do not have true freedom of speech. Hate speech should be protected. Speech that advocates physical violence should not be protected.

  • Billysees

    @Dakotahgeo: 17

    I agree with you here completely.

    Fortunately, we are given a seldom mentioned fact that goes like this —

    The Holy Spirit will guide each of us into the future and will help us understand and accept the things that should be important to us in our daily lives……..Jesus…….John 16:13….paraphrase mine.

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