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Supreme Court reinforces the principle of equal protection in hate speech case

February 27, 2013

The Supreme Court of Canada has rejected an argument hate speech laws should apply differently to hate speech directed at LGBT persons.

On February 27, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada released its long awaited ruling in Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission v. Whatcott. The decision upheld (with some modification) the hate speech provision in Saskatchewan’s Human Rights Code.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal found that William Whatcott violated the hate speech provision when he distributed flyers that portrayed gays and lesbians as filthy, sex addicted, predators of children. The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal overturned the decision, finding that the flyers did not promote hatred. The Court of Appeal’s decision suggested that a different constitutional standard applied because the speech in issue targeted gays and lesbians, rather than targeting people based on their race or religion. The Court of Appeal also drew a distinction between sexual activity and sexual orientation, and suggested that there should be a relatively high degree of tolerance for expression used to debate “moral issues”.

Egale Canada Inc. intervened in the appeal to the Supreme Court. It did not take a position on whether the Code’s hate speech provision was constitutional or whether Whatcott’s flyers violated the provision. Rather, Egale’s intervention focused only on those aspects of the Court of Appeal’s decision that suggested that gays and lesbians were deserving of lesser protection that other protected groups and urged the Supreme Court to reject any such interpretation.

Click here for more information and to find out what the Court decided.


Christine Davies

Practice Areas

Constitutional Law, Human Rights Law