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Gay Rights vs. Freedom of Speech in Canadian High Court

Gay Rights vs. Freedom of Speech in Canadian High Court


A former gay prostitute turned antigay religious activist will argue for his freedom of speech and religion before Canada's top court Wednesday in a case viewed as the most significant test of the country's hate laws in years.

The Globe and Mail reports on the case of William Whatcott, 43, whose antigay proselytizing was prosecuted under the anti-hate provision of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission in 2002. He dropped thousands of pamphlets in Saskatoon to denounce increasing acceptance of gay people, and was fined $17,500. An appeals court later reversed the ruling.

Whatcott wants to overturn the provision and similar protections in other provisions. He has drawn support from a range of sources including civil libertarians and press organizations.

"The court's decision is expected to hinge on whether hate can ever be defined in such a way that it doesn't destroy legitimate opinion in the process," according to the Globe and Mail.

On the other hand, the Saskatchewan government and its human rights commission have argued in written briefs that expressions of hate for gay people devalue their lives and increase the likelihood of violence.

The high-profile case marks the first test of the hate provision since 1990, when the court upheld the measure by a 4-3 margin in a case involving white supremacist John Ross Taylor. Then, as now, only seven judges sat on the depleted court with two vacancies.

"The only judge who remains from that case, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, argued strongly in dissent that defining hate is an inexact art that threatens free speech," reports the Globe and Mail. "Since the Ross decision, public and media clamoring to reopen the question has steadily increased."

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