Straight Talk
EDITORIAL - Welcome setback for rights tribunals

The Supreme Court of Canada seen in Ottawa, Dec 12, 2012.

Credits: ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY

QMI AGENCY

While reaffirming there was more than just a fine line separating freedom of speech from freedom to spew to hate, the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling Wednesday also pricked the perceived omnipotence of human rights tribunals.

Too bad it didn't deflate them more.

Human rights tribunals across this country, and not just in Saskatchewan where this case focused, have increasingly convinced themselves over the years that they were gods, and were turning virtually every mole-hill complaint into a literal mountain.

These modern-day politically correct inquisitors had to be reined in.

In a 6-0 decision, the Supreme Court trimmed back to $7,500 the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal's order for Weyburn's Bill Whatcott to pay $17,500 to complainants who argued four flyers distributed in 2001 and 2002 promoted hatred against gays and lesbians.

While the court ruled that two of the flyers did represent "hate" and the other two were only "offensive," its main thrust was to declare the wording of Saskatchewan's hate laws not only vague but constitutionally invalid.

It was back in 1990 that the Supreme Court of Canada defined what constituted hate speech, stating that it must exhibit "strong and deep-felt emotions of detestation, calumny and vilification." But Saskatchewan, amongst other provinces, decided to go further, to ban any speech that "ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts (someone's) dignity." It even took "calumny" out of the equation, arguing that truth was no defence.

In other words, if you did more than hurt someone's feelings in Saskatchewan, it was considered hate -- regardless of whether it was true their mother wore army boots or they were half right about being a wit.

This might be worthy of a lecture from a kindergarten teacher, but certainly not from a human rights commission.

It would be wise, therefore, for our human rights tribunals, including the federal one, to listen to Canada's top definers of law and forego the ridiculousness of chasing down offensive language and trying to turn it into a hate crime.

Too bad the Supreme Court was not more blunt, as in stating categorically that unpopular opinion and unpopular beliefs do not constitute hate or a need to censure.

But this is a decent start.

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