William Whatcott in Ottawa, October 12, 2011
Credits: Chris Roussakis/QMI Agency, file
On Wednesday , Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that the government has the power to censor anyone who publicly says anything “likely to expose a person to hatred or contempt.”
Except that hate is a natural human emotion. It can no more be banned than love can be banned.
Bill Whatcott, a self-styled Christian evangelist, was the target of such a prosecution.
Twelve years ago, he was charged with hate speech because of his hobby: Handing out hand-scrawled flyers criticizing gay sex, and calling homosexuals “sodomites.”
Whatcott is an odd bird; when he was young, he says, he engaged in gay sex himself, and drugs too, but has since found Jesus.
He argued that, even if his flyers were “hateful” — whatever that means — as a Canadian, he has freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
Which just happen to be the first and second freedoms listed in our Charter of Rights. The counterfeit “human right not to be offended” is not.
But the Supreme Court had no time for Whatcott’s religion. It said the phrase “sodomite” was hateful, and even though that word comes from the Bible, it was illegal for Whatcott to write what he did. The courts threw out the religion defence, “allowing the dissemination of hate speech to be excused by a sincerely held belief would, in effect, provide an absolute defence and would gut the prohibition of effectiveness,” the court wrote.
And it’s right. Any government that respected freedom of religion would not be able to censor a man’s beliefs as the court just did.
But Christians are the one group in society that it’s still acceptable to discriminate against. In the 36 years these censorship laws have been on the books, only Christians have ever been prosecuted — never a Muslim, Sikh or Tamil extremist, though Canada has its fair share of those.
The court didn’t just ban hateful religious views. It banned hateful speech that was objectively, scientifically true. As in, indisputable facts, if they might cause someone to hate someone else. As the judges put it, “not all truthful statements must be free from restriction.”
We lived through a time like that once. It was called the Dark Ages. We “restricted” scientists like Galileo for daring to suggest that the Earth rotated around the Sun — a fact considered offensive in 1615. We emerged from this censorship through a period called the Enlightenment, when science and skepticism allowed us to question anything — even if feelings were hurt. Especially if they were hurt, actually.
Perhaps our Supreme Court would be so kind as to publish a list of prohibited books, like the Vatican’s infamous Index, so we know in advance what truths we are not allowed to say in Canada.
Why did the court do this? Why infringe on our freedom of speech and religion? What was so dangerous about Bill Whatcott — a goofy and harmless eccentric who has likely turned more people against his cause than to it, through his crudeness?
Let me quote the court’s excuse: “As the majority becomes desensitized by the effects of hate speech, the concern is that some members of society will demonstrate their rejection of the vulnerable group through conduct. Hate speech lays the groundwork for later, broad attacks on vulnerable groups. These attacks can range from discrimination, to ostracism, segregation, deportation, violence and, in the most extreme cases, to genocide ...”
So if we don’t stop Whatcott from handing out his flyers, we’ll be deporting and murdering gays in no time. Even though that hasn’t happened in the 12 years he’s been at it. Even though that violence is against real laws like the Criminal Code.
The court’s excuse is a bizarre fantasy, without a scintilla of evidence to suggest it could happen. But it’s also a glimpse of what the court thinks of regular Canadians: We’re all just one pamphlet away from turning into a violent mob.
Only our morally superior judges can be trusted to look at pamphlets without turning into Nazis. Mere citizens can’t be trusted with those flyers. Or the Bible. Or the wrong facts.