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Entries in whatcott (6)

Thursday
Feb282013

The SCC’s Whatcott Decision Explores The Meaning Of “Hatred’ While Continuing The Subjective/Objective Debate

As discussed in previous blog postings, the Supreme Court of Canada appears to be moving towards the objective standard in criminal law – a standard in antithesis to the subjective standard which requires the trier of fact to determine the accused’s perception of the facts in deciding upon guilt or innocence. The objective standard found in objective mens rea offences and used as a standard of assessment in many defences, relies upon the seemingly objective perception of the reasonable person – a legal construct endowed with the standard of a standard citizen from a standard community.

Now, with the release of Whatcott, this objective/subjective debate has moved into the human rights arena. In this case, the Court struggles with the meaning of the emotion – hatred – and whether or not the concept or emotion of hatred can properly form the basis of a rule of law. Interestingly, the Court has had less difficulty with other emotive and therefore subjective words used in the Charter context, such as “life” and “liberty” in section 7. Even the term “freedom,” which is found throughout the Charter and is the defining word, perhaps even the objective (of course with the due limitations) of the legislation, is applied with ease by the Court.

No doubt, these terms are reflective of our society’s fundamental values. By describing them as value-based terms, we are already suggesting the subjective and emotional nature of these terms. It is these words, with such a depth of personal meaning, which are difficult to articulate and describe. An individual’s understanding of the term becomes personal and the use of the word is imbued with this personal meaning when utilized in any concrete context.

For example, I know what liberty means – it means the ability to be free from restraint and constraints imposed by others. However, “liberty” also has a visual meaning to me taken from my knowledge and world experience, which creates a more robust version of the words I have just written down. Therefore, “liberty” is the Statue of, “liberty” is also the poem by Tupac entitled “Liberty Needs Glasses,” as well as the Delacroix painting “Liberty Leading The People” hanging in the Louvre. “Liberty” is the panoply of past, present, and future human struggles, which we have studied and to which we are still bearing witness. Finally, “liberty” has the legal meaning as circumscribed by case law as not “mere freedom from physical restraint” but

In a free and democratic society, the individual must be left room for personal autonomy to live his or her own life and to make decisions that are of fundamental personal importance.

So too in Whatcott the Court imbues the word “hatred” with the legislative objective of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. Thus, an emotion becomes a standard to be applied by the tribunal. “Hatred,” therefore, is to mean something beyond dislike and must reflect a standard of behaviour beyond the norm or, as Justice Rothstein explains, be an “expression of an unusual and extreme nature.” The standard of assessment, in order to minimize the emotive perception of “hatred” must be based on an objective standard evoking the perception of the reasonable person. The question to be asked by the tribunal becomes a seemingly simple and standardized approach: “when considered objectively by a reasonable person aware of the relevant context and circumstances, the speech in question would be understood as exposing or tending to expose members of the target group to hatred”.

Even so, Justice Rothstein seems to be crafting a definition of “hatred” that is very personal: “hatred” is not “calumny” but includes “contempt” and may dehumanize an individual or a group of individuals. This concept of “dehumanization” is consistent with universal human rights principles, which evolved out of the atrocities of World War II and is related to the Nazi Germany objective, as evidenced by their laws and actions, to strip Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, and other minority groups of their humanity. The converse of this is the well-entrenched Charter value of “human dignity.” This definition of hatred, according to Justice Rothstein, taken from case law principles, provides an objective, clear, and identifiable standard to be imposed, which “excludes merely offensive or hurtful expression” but includes “extreme and egregious examples of delegitimizing expression as hate speech.”

In the end, the SCC by carving out a definition of hate speech consistent with the approved authorities and by excising meanings which were not consistent with the standard of hatred, created an “emotionless” template for tribunals and courts. As discussed in my previous blog on the SCC’s recent decision on duress, which approved of the objectification of the test for duress despite cogent arguments by legal theorist George Fletcher to embrace individualization, this “shoe-horning” of value-laden terms into the objective category may not be a true reflection of society’s values and may, in the end, diminish the deeply personal meaning of such values in favour of the rule of law.

 

Monday
Nov212011

Blog Update: The Limits Of Expression

In the November 19 blog entitled A Message Of Tolerance, I discussed the most recent decision by Alberta Provincial Court Judge Bascom to quash a University of Calgary trespass notice against William Whatcott for handing out anti-gay literature on campus. This case is an intersection of two current controversies surrounding freedom of expression: expression on campus and hate speech. 

Although wilfully promoting hatred under s. 319 of the Criminal Code infringes s.2(b) freedom of expression rights under the Charter, it is a justifiable infringement under s.1. In both the Keegstra case and the Zundel case, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the expressive content of hate speech, albeit repugnant. It is under the s.1 analysis, wherein the Court determines if limiting the expression in a particular instance is justified, where the balancing of expression against Charter values of multiculturalism, equality, and human dignity occur. In this context, expression can and has been limited, particularly where such expression reaches criminal proportions.

However, it is in the non-criminal arena of human rights codes where the line between protection and limitation is not clearly drawn. Criminal hate offences require proof of a high level of subjective mens rea or fault element. Hate speech violations under the human rights codes do not require such a high level of intent, which is at the core of the issue in the other Whatcott case, now under reserve at the Supreme Court of Canada.

Similarly, the Boission v. Lund case, set to be heard at the Alberta Court of Appeal on December 7, raises the spectre of hate speech and limits to expression. There too the extent to which non-criminal hate speech can be restricted by human rights codes will be considered.

The other issue of interest, freedom of expression on campus, I have discussed in two previous postings: the November 8 blog on The Pridgen Case and Freedom Of Expression On Campus and the November 9 blog on Freedom of Expression in the Classroom. The Alberta Court of Appeal has reserved decision on the Pridgen case.

However, the ability of a University to restrict free expression, no matter how ugly, is a current issue, with Campus Pro-Life groups across Canada fighting against university prohibitions of their graphic anti-abortion campaigns. Currently, the Calgary group has a judicial review pending in the Alberta Queens Bench as of April 2011. Calgary, Carleton, Victoria and Guelph have all banned the clubs on campus.

Even university marching bands are not immune as the Queen's University marching band's explicitly discriminatory material against women has resulted in a suspension of the band's activities.

Although the intersection of expression and intolerance is not surprising, what is of interest is the locus operandi or the commonality of place, of this intersection: the university campus. As a result, how the Courts will determine expression limits on campus has just become even more complex.

Saturday
Nov192011

A Message Of Tolerance

Relying upon s.2(b) freedom of expression rights under the Charter, Judge Bascom of the Alberta Provincial Court stayed a trespassing charge against William Whatcott, who received the trespass notice when distributing anti-gay literature at the University of Calgary. An indefinite ban was also lifted. This decision is consistent with other decisions on hate speech: no matter how abhorrent the message may be, there is expressive content in the communication and therefore protected under s.2(b).

Another factor for Judge Bascom was the place of the communication. This too is consistent with expression cases, as discussed in my November 17 blog on the City of Montreal case. According to Judge Bascom, the fact the incident occurred at a University was significant as "the concept of free expression is part of the University of Calgary philosophy." Interesting comment in light of the Pridgen case as discussed in my blog post here.

William Whatcott has not only been the subject of a Provincial Court decision, but also a Supreme Court of Canada case. Whatcott's case, in which he argued the hate speech provision of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code is unconstitutional, is currently on reserve. Further information can be found in my blog postings here.

The determination of Charter rights are complex when faced with competing rights such as s. 2(b) freedom of expression versus the right not be discriminated against under s.15 of the Charter. In those instances, we, as a society, must look to the Courts to balance both rights meaningfully and fairly, in the context of Charter values, to come to the appropriate decision. 

Sometimes, society can also take some sage advice from those individuals, who we deem wise and worthy. I end this blog with a link to a message from Nobel Prize recipient, Lord Bertrand Russell. The message of tolerance can be heard here.

Saturday
Nov122011

The Art and Science of Connections

While reviewing my posts, I began thinking of connections and how seemingly unconnected events can provide meaningful and sometimes surprising connections, which can then further enhance our understanding of the subject. Every Friday, I read Simon Fodden's Friday Fillip blog and yesterday he too was discussing connections in his Degrees Of Connections posting. As opposed to Steven Johnson's concept of mentally connecting ideas for innovation, Fodden offered a mechanical option through Wikipedia's Xefer site. This search engine, using Wikipedia articles, can connect any three words to come up with a search list of articles connecting those concepts through a visual "tree of knowledge."

I plugged in three concepts from my previous blogs, not obviously connected: inherit the wind, redemption, discrimination. The results are fascinating as Art and Science truly come together. 

Of course, this mechanical connecting encouraged a mental one and I started making connections between my blogs. Here is my first "six degrees of connections": October 12 Law, Literature, And Inherit The Wind to November 9 Freedom Of Expression In The Classroom to November 8 The Pridgen Case and Freedom Of Expression On Campus to October 18 Wristbands Are In Effect: The Keep A Breast Campaign to October 25 On The Road To The Supreme Court Of Canada to October 22 The Road Taken By The Supreme Court Of Canada which leads back to the October 12 blog. Whew.

How did they connect? I went from Inherit The Wind, the play involving the prosecution of Mr. Scopes, a teacher who taught evolution in the classroom which connects to freedom of speech in the classroom and the PEI case of Mr. Morin showing a controversial documentary in his grade 9 class which connects to freedom of expression by students on campus involving the Prigden case just heard before the Alberta Court of Appeal which connects to freedom of expression of students wearing breast cancer wristbands which connects to what cases have been heard before the Supreme Court of Canada and the Whatcott case involving freedom of expression issues intersecting with freedom of religion issues which connects to the case the SCC should hear on freedom to be free of religion in the classrooms as a result of Morinville, Alberta school and the Lord's Prayer which connects back to Inherit The Wind and the freedom to be free of religion.

How was that for a weekend brain twister? Try it and make either mechanical or mental connections. Who know where they might lead? 

Saturday
Oct222011

The Road Taken by the Supreme Court of Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada, this Fall has already released a number of important judgments. The PHS Community Services Society decision on Ministerial discretion, or lack thereof, under s.56 of the CDSA for an exemption of a safe injection site in Vancouver is one such case. Another, is the Crookes v. Newton case in which the Court described a hyperlink in a website article as a reference and not a defamatory publication. 

The Court has also heard and reserved on some controversial cases such as the Whatcott case involving the constitutionality of the hate speech provisions in the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. Whatcott is a good example of the difficult issues found in a Charter case involving conflicting fundamental freedoms as the freedom to express competes with freedom of religion. Not unusually with these conflicts, there is rarely a clear winner. As Ronald Dworkin, an American constitutional scholar, would say, one right does not "trump" another. For our rights in Canada, although guaranteed, are limited within the Charter itself. Ever reasonable, we Canadians prefer the balanced route, the road taken so to speak.

For tomorrow's blog we will be "taking rights seriously" as I speculate on the case the SCC has not yet heard, but should, and possibly, will.