Credits: Darryl Dyck/Edmonton Sun
OTTAWA - Canada's top court Wednesday narrowed the definition of hate speech in Saskatchewan but ultimately ruled against an anti-gay crusader fighting the provisions.
The Supreme Court struck down the section of the province's human rights code that defines hate speech as something that "ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity" of any person.
In the unanimous ruling, it upheld in part a human rights tribunal ruling against Bill Whatcott, the anti-gay pamphleteer who distributed flyers calling homosexuals "sodomites" and equating them with child abusers.
The court agreed some of those flyers crossed into hate speech and he'll be forced to pay reduced damages of some $7,500 imposed by the tribunal.
David Arnot, head of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, says the ruling is a vindication and a victory for hate speech watchdogs in Canada.
"The court has affirmed the validity of our legislation as written and has confirmed that it strikes the proper balance between freedom of expression and freedom from harm and harassment that comes with hate-filled speech," he said at a Saskatchewan news conference.
Arnot noted the commission's own lawyers had argued the line removed by the top court in the hate speech provisions was too broad.
It's removal is "a minor point really," he said.
Whatcott's lawyer says his client will continue to distribute flyers as he sees fit.
"If the court finds his flyers hateful he'll let the chips fall where they should," Thomas Schuck said.
Two of Whatcott's flyers "combine many of the hallmarks of hatred identified in case law," wrote Justice Marshall Rothstein.
"The expression portrays the targeted group as a menace that could threaten the safety and well-being of others, makes reference to respected sources (in this case the Bible) to lend credibility to the negative generalizations, and uses vilifying and derogatory representations to create a tone of hatred."
The Canadian Constitution Foundation -- an intervener in the case -- warned the ruling could have a chilling effect on free speech.
"The Supreme Court missed an excellent opportunity to rein in the power of various human rights commissions and tribunals to censor the expression of unpopular beliefs," he said.
The Saskatchewan commission brought the case to the top court after losing against Whatcott in a second appeal in a Saskatchewan appellate court in 2010.
The province's court of appeal ruled Whatcott didn't breach the hate speech laws and overturned the original $17,500 in damages and a ban on distributing the flyers the human rights tribunal had imposed for the pamphlets he distributed in Regina and Saskatoon in 2001 and 2002.
Four people filed complaints against him at the human rights commission, arguing the flyers promoted hatred against homosexuals.
The court heard arguments in the case in Oct. 2011.