Blog Update: The Spy and the Pamphleteer

In previous postings, I have discussed two very different cases now before Canadian courts. The first case concerns William Whatcott, a persistent anti-gay pamphleteer, who is before two different courts connected to his pamphleteering activities. The second case is of Jeffery Delisle, the first person charged with spying under the newly enacted Security of Information Act. Although the two cases are completely unrelated, court decisions in both of these cases were handed down on March 30, 2012.

The first Whatcott case, which is still on reserve before the Supreme Court of Canada, involves the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal’s finding that Whatcott’s anti-gay pamphlets amounted to hate speech. The other Whatcott case, decided on March 30, 2012, is an appeal of the quashing of Whatcott’s trespass charge when he was on University of Calgary lands to hand out his anti-gay literature. The original decision to quash the charge by Provincial Court Judge Bascom can be accessed here.

Just as a refresher, the Supreme Court of Canada Whatcott case is a vitally important decision for the ability of human rights tribunals to uphold the tenants of human rights legislation. It also raises the difficult issue of conflicting Charter rights: in this case the freedom of expression under s.2(b) and freedom of religion under s.2(a) in the context of competing Charter values as found under s.15, which promote respect and tolerance of others in our community.

Although the SCC Whatcott case concerns the constitutionality of the hate speech provision in the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, the ultimate issue in the case will decide whether or not provincial laws on hate speech must conform with the more stringent hate speech section in the Criminal Code. If so, provincial human rights codes could be essentially redundant, leaving the more difficult to prove Criminal Code sections to safeguard society from the harmful effects of hate speech. Some of the factums filed in support of the SCC argument can be found here.

This SCC decision is of particular interest in Alberta, where provincial election campaigning has touched on the controversy surrounding the Alberta Human Rights Commission and its enforcement of provincial hate speech legislation. The Boisson v. Lund case, also discussed in a previous posting, shares similar issues with the SCC Whatcott. The Alberta Court of Appeal has not as yet released a decision on this case. The controversy in Alberta over this case and the high profile Alberta Human Rights case against journalist Ezra Levant for re-publishing the infamous Dutch “Muslim Cartoon,” has brought repeated calls for abolishing the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The Wildrose Party is campaigning on a platform, which includes abolishing the Commission, instead creating a new Human Rights Division in the Provincial Court of Alberta.

In the other Whatcott case of trespassing on University lands, the case has been so far decided in favour of protecting freedom of expression. In a previous posting, I discussed Alberta Provincial Court Judge Bascom’s stay of trespassing charges against Whatcott on the basis of s.2(b) expression rights under the Charter. On March 30, 2012, the appeal of the decision was heard before Alberta Queen’s Bench Justice Paul Jeffery, who summarily dismissed the Crown appeal and upheld Judge Bascom’s decision. The written reasons for the decision have not, as yet, been released.

Unlike Mr. Whatcott, Jeffery Delisle did not receive a favourable decision on March 30, 2012. Mr. Delisle was refused bail by Nova Scotia Provincial Court Judge Beach and ordered to stay in custody pending his trial. A ban on publication was imposed at the bail hearing and therefore the reasons for dismissing the bail application is unknown. Although Mr. Delisle’s lawyer stated he was “disappointed” albeit not surprised with the decision, there is no word whether or not he will be reviewing the decision in superior court. In the meantime, Mr. Delisle will return to court on May 8, presumably to set a date for trial. Delisle’s lawyer has commented on the case, indicating Delisle is not accused of endangering military troops as a result of his alleged espionage. There is some suggestion Delisle, at the time of the commission of the offence, was heavily into online gaming and had a “computer addiction,” which may have lead to monetary difficulties. For further discussion, read my Spy vs. Spy blog and my blog entitled Let’s Talk About: Diplomatic Immunity. For further reading on the Whatcott cases, read my blogs Law, Literature, and Inherit The Wind, The Road Taken By The Supreme Court of Canada, A Message of Tolerance, Limits of Expression, and Whatcott in The Courts Again.



Whatcott In The Courts Again

Last Fall, I discussed the cases of William Whatcott in previous blog postings. I say cases, as William Whatcott is before the Courts in two different, yet related matters.

On October 12, 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada reserved decision on the Whatcott case, which raised the issue of the constitutionality of the hate speech section of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. Whatcott, a prolific pamphleteer, was found in violation of the Saskatchewan provisions for delivering his pamphlets at various homes in Regina and Saskatchewan. People complained about the pamphlets some of which were entitled “Keep Homosexuality out of Saskatoon’s Public Schools!” and "Sodomites In Our Public Schools." As a result, Whatcott was fined for violating s. 14(1)(b) of the Code on the basis the pamphlets “promotes hatred against individuals because of their sexual orientation.”

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal overturned the Tribunal finding, but not on the basis of Whatcott's Charter claim. Justice Hunter, after analyzing the pamphlets and the freedom of expression protections found within the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, namely s. 5 and s. 14(2), found the pamphlets were not hate speech under the Code. Although Justice Smith agreed with the analysis, she but did so mainly on the basis of the relationship between the hate speech provisions and the constitutional values of freedom of expression as entrenched in the Charter. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The other case, presently in the news, relates to Whatcott's pamphleteering efforts in Alberta on the University of Calgary campus in 2008. At the time, Whatcott was banned from the property and was served with a trespass notice for being in violation. Alberta Provincial Court Judge Bascom stayed the proceedings on the rationale the notice violated s.2(b) of the CharterThe Crown has now appealed this decision, which will be heard on March 30, 2012 at the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench. 

Read my previous postings on the issue here:

The Road Taken By The Supreme Court of Canada

A Message of Tolerance

Blog Update: The Limits Of Expression

Law, Literature, And Inherit The Wind



Freedom of Expression: Poems, Posters, And Billboards As A Form of Complaint

In previous postings, I discussed the Occupy movement's "Tent Cities" as a form of political protest with expressive content and therefore protected expression under s.2 of the Charter. Once Charter protected, the analysis then shifts to the s.1 limitation analysis to determine whether or not a restriction of that expression is justified in a free and democratic society.

Political protest, as expression, is readily accepted as worthy of protection. The difficulty, however, is when we look to more obscure kinds of expressive protest, such as a personal complaint. This was the case in a recent decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal in R. v. Jeffers.

Mr. Jeffers was convicted of mischief and counselling murder as a result of distributing and plastering posters across Toronto, which referred to his dire financial situation caused by the bank's re-possession of his home. In one poster, the basis for his convictions, Jeffers reproduced a photograph of a city councillor with the councillor's name and the word "murder" as seen below:

Murder Help

Councillor Thompson Jeffers

Help Black 647-xxx-4476
We Black

Mr. Jeffers, who was not originally from Canada, had a grade 5 education. According to Mr. Jeffers, the posters were a cry for help and were not intended to harm the city councillor, who had helped Mr. Jeffers in the past. The councillor did not testify at trial.

In quashing the convictions and substituting acquittals, the Court of Appeal, applying the legal principles required to prove the offences, referred to postering as "an effective and inexpensive means of communicative expression" and therefore "criminalizing this kind of conduct is not in society's best interest." The posters, albeit crude and childish, were a public airing of an individual's frustration with a plea for help from the City and were, in light of all of the circumstances, not criminal.

The Jeffers case made reference to another earlier Ontario Court of Appeal case, R. v. Batista, wherein the accused wrote poems and posted the verses throughout a Mississauga neighbourhood. The poems were about the accused's city councillor, and as with Jeffers's posters, not the most erudite literature, but were found not criminal in nature. A sample of the impugned section of the poem is reproduced below:

Now this bad driver that

WE only know as Pat Saito

who run away from thataccident

site is going to think twice

before backing up and looking at

pot holes instead of doing

Her job

We are going to dig a pot hole

about six feet long and 3 feet wide

and five feet deep to hide

her body and God will take care

of Her Soul, but We can not

forgive her for doing nothing

She can keep running

at a good pace but

We will make sure

that She is in HEAVEN

and out of the Race.

In this case, the Court considered the elements of the offence of threaten death in the context of freedom of expression under s. 2 (b) of the Charter and the vital role political satire, albeit "amateurish, foolish, and offensive," plays in a democracy. Indeed, the Court found:

The poem’s purpose of denigrating the elected councillor’s level of job commitment or competence provides important context for a consideration of whether the impugned stanzas of the poem constitute a threat. All citizens are entitled to freedom of expression in the political forum, including those whose language skills are limited. While it was unnecessary for the trial judge to engage in the in-depth s. 2(b) analysis urged upon him by trial counsel, it was necessary to consider the poem as political commentary before determining whether it constituted a threat at law.

Of course, freedom of expression is no stranger to signage as a form of complaint and grievance. In the 2002 Supreme Court of Canada Guignard case, a billboard erected on Guignard's building showing dissatisfaction with an insurance company, was protected expression under the Charter and the municipal by-law restricting that right was found to be unconstitutional.

The sign, as a form of commercial expression, was also a form of "counter-advertising" wherein a consumer exercised his or her right to show dissatisfaction with a product with the additional benefit of forewarning other consumers. This expression of complaint or dissatisfaction, not unlike the complaints found in Jeffers and Batista, "is a form of expression of opinion that has an important effect on the social and economic life of a society."

The Jeffers and Batista cases are yet another example of the Courts using Charter values to interpret their findings. Thus, the Charter colours decisions with broad strokes without the rigidity of a direct Charter analysis. This subtle use of the Charter is the future of constitutional law as Charter values incrementally change our laws to make them more robust and relevant to society.

The Sixty Day Review: Occupy Canada and Impaired Driving Alberta

Slightly more than sixty blog days have passed and it is time to review. I have chosen two of my most popular posting areas to review: the Occupy movement and the new Alberta impaired driving laws

As discussed previously, although the courts have recognized violations of freedom of expression resulting from the City's bylaws prohibiting the erecting of shelters in public spaces, these laws have been saved under s.1 of the Charter. This means the legislated restrictions on freedom of expression is justifiable in a free and democratic society. These decisions from across Canada have resulted in the removal of the various "Tent Cities," which were the outward manifestation of the movement's "occupy" philosophy. 

The media coverage of the court cases to remove the protesters seemed to overshadow the true nature and meaning of the protest. I recently read an excellent blog posting by the Dean of Osgoode Hall Law School, Lorne Sussin, who reminds us of the important "teachable moments" presented by the protest. In particular, Dean Sussin speaks of poverty and the inequalities arising from it, as the true issue to be resolved. 

This reminder lead me back to the letters written by the CCLA (Canadian Civil Liberties Association) to the various Canadian Mayors to remind the municipalities of their obligation to respect the protestors' human rights through "constitutionally-required tolerance towards peaceful, democratic activities."

As discussed in my previous posting, these reminders from the Dean and the CCLA provides the lessons we can learn from Charter values.

The second area of review is the contentious amendments to the Alberta Traffic Safety Act, which was passed late Tuesday, December 6 by the Tory dominated Alberta Legislature. After the Bill was passed, Premier Redford "softened the blow" by announcing the incremental implementation of the law.

The first phase, to begin in January 2012, will see the extraordinary penalties assessed against those whose BAC is over 80 and face criminal code charges as well. The second phase, involving increased penalties for those driving with BAC between 50 and 80, has no implementation date stamp as yet. According to Premier Redford, this second phase will be "accompanied by lengthy public education."

Already, there has been charts, graphs, and other such various multimedia presentations on what the new legislation "means." The difficulty is that these explanations are merely a general guideline and should not be used as a definitive guide to drinking and driving in Alberta. The calculations are estimates at best which rely on certain assumptions, which may or may not be the same for every person. As a result, the education may lead to more confusion.

In British Columbia, the harsh impaired driving laws, on which Alberta fashioned their new law, received a legal set back as discussed in my previous blog here. The BC government has still not announced their response, other than to recognize the need to change their legislation in order to make it constitutionally worthy. The growing issue is the response to all of the affected drivers, who were penalized under the old regime, and whether they will receive some recourse from the government.

The Alberta saw a real time example of impaired driving when Conservative MP Peter Goldring was stopped, after his constituency Christmas party, for drinking and driving. Goldring is now sitting outside of his caucus as a result of the charges: refuse to provide a breath sample contrary to the Criminal Code.

The only truly accurate educative message is: do not drink alcohol and drive. To that end, December, according to the Alberta Traffic Safety Plan Calendar, is Impaired Driving Awareness Month. As said in previous blogs, awareness education may be the best message to stop the dire consequences of drinking and driving. 

In the past sixty days we have discussed many interesting and important connections between ideas and the law. I invite you to read or even re-read these blogs, by visiting the "home" page, to make your own connections.


The Occupy Movement and The Government's Right to Allocate Public Space

Justice can move at a dizzying pace: since Friday, the Occupy movements in Victoria, Vancouver, and Toronto have been ordered by the Courts to obey municipal law and take down their tents. The issue, at least according to B.C. Supreme Court Justice Schultes who granted the Victoria injunction, is the government's right to allocate public space. 

In his oral reasons for granting the extraordinary injunctive remedy, Schultes concluded the City of Victoria, by requesting the order, was "within its rights to mange public spaces in the public interest" and is "free to come to the conclusion that any encampment, wherever and however situated in the square, is not in keeping with the best public use of that space." 

In a previous post from November 4 on Creating A Positive Out Of A Negative, I suggested that the BC Supreme Court in Victoria (City) v. Adams created a Charter right to shelter. Adams involved very specific evidence of a lack of shelter beds for the homeless, causing the homeless to erect a Tent City in a public park. In that case, the Court found an infringement of s.7 right to life, liberty and security of the person as a result of the lack of shelter. In the Court's view, the case was not about property rights. Nor was it about the right to camp in public spaces. It was about human dignity and self-fulfillment of the homeless, who had no alternative but to sleep in temporary shelters in a City park.

How does the Occupy movement situation differ? Although homelessness and poverty does appear to be a theme in the Occupy movement, it is certainly not the reason why all of the members are living in tents in a public space. Certainly the movement would be unable to produce the same kind of evidence as in Adams, which was persuasive in its breadth and depth. Does that mean the case is all about property rights, which is not Charter protected?

Schultes's reasons may provide an answer. By framing the issue as one of public allocation, Schultes was no doubt referring to the Supreme Court of Canada Committee for the Commonwealth of Canada case decided in 1991. There, the members of the Committee were handing out their propaganda at an airport contrary to airport regulations. The Committee members argued their s.2(b) freedom of expression rights were infringed. Although the Court agreed the freedom was infringed, they were split on various issues of the case. One of the issues discussed was the special use, if any, of governmental property as public space.

According to the Court, public space should not be treated like private property as the government held the property for the benefit of the public. Indeed, in Adams, Madam Justice Ross found the public included the homeless. However, the SCC cautioned on a formulistic view of a "public forum" analysis and preferred a contextual approach involving the balancing of the interests of the individual and the interests of the government. Thus, in Chief Justice Lamer's (as he then was) view when expression is restricted in a public place, the legal analysis must examine the

interest of the individual wishing to express himself in a place suitable for such expression and that of the government in effective operation of the place owned by it".

As it is public lands, Lamer, C.J. found it is the "citizens above all who have an interest in seeing that the properties are administered and operated in a manner consistent with their intended purpose."

What does this mean for the Occupy movement? This means as stated by Justice Brown, in granting injunctive relief to the City of Toronto, that "protestors have ample means left to express their message, including continued use of the park (but no structures or "midnight hours"), and other Torontonians can resume their use of the park" too. Therefore, the right to freely express oneself does not include exclusive use of the space chosen to do it. In other words, there is room in the sandbox for everyone.

In the end, isn't that a good thing? The more the merrier and the more who will hear the message to be conveyed.

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.

Pushing The Expression Envelope: Semiotics

In yesterday's blog, I discussed the expressive content of sound, noise, and music. Yes, even ring-tones have expressive content. To find that something has expressive content is important when it comes to freedom of expression rights under s.2(b) of the Charter. If a sound or gesture does not have expressive content, then it will not be protected. Even if it does have expressive content, the court will be more concerned with an infringement if the expression goes toward fulfilling a Charter value such as self-fulfillment or democratic entitlement. Of course, the government can still restrict that right if justified under s.1 of the Charter.

The Supreme Court of Canada suggests that expressive content, not only depends upon the purpose of the expression, but is also dependent on the place of that communication. Therefore, expressive content must also depend upon the source of that communication: human manipulation as opposed to a pure environmental source. 

On that basis, let's push the expression envelope, so to speak, and think about the expressive content of symbols. Semiotics is defined generally by writer and one-time Professor of Semiotics, Umberto Eco, as the "study of signs." Signs can be words, sounds, images, gestures, objects, body language or really anything which stands for something else. According to Roland Barthes, the linguistic philosopher who created a postmodern view of semiotics, all of these signs in the modern world are really a complex association of "language" or a "system of signification." Thus, the peace symbol emblazoned on an American flag during the Vietnam War is expression as well as the dancing men in the Sherlock Holmes mystery.

But how about numbers? Numbers are symbols and form a language. Numbers can express weight, time, and amount. Numbers have expressive content and meaning. In a world of technology, the expressive content of numbers is important and perhaps of crucial significance in today's information highway. presently, the legal community has focused on the intellectual property aspects of information and have treated numbers as property. However, as expressive symbols, information or data may be viewed as more than receptacles but as having intrinsic expressive value under s.2(b) of the Charter.

Who knows, perhaps in the postmodern world of the future, the Jetsons will be expressing themselves freely in a numeric world protected by the Charter.

Music, Noise, And Expression

Yesterday evening I attended Impromptu, a collaborative concert showcasing avant-garde or experimental musicians sponsored by New Works Calgary. Although, I had heard the music played on the CJSW's Noise radio program, to actually be present when the musicians compose and play in such a contemporaneous fashion, is truly wonderful. But being the lawyer that I am, I began to wonder about the expressive content of music, and particularly, the expressive content of noise.

The City of Calgary's noise bylaw or Community Standards Bylaw which prohibits continuous and non-continuous annoying or disturbing noise, including music. Whether or not the sound is "objectionable" according to the bylaw, is a question of fact for a Court to determine. Yet, what may be music to one person's ears may be noise to another person. What is objectionable to one may not be objectionable to another. Community standards shift and change over time, over place, and over age and temperament of the listener. 

In terms of Charter protection, section 2(b), freedom of expression, protects the expressive content of an individual. Certainly, in some circumstances, sounds can have expressive content and thereby be worthy of protection. In the Supreme Court of Canada decision in City of Montreal, both the majority and dissenting justice found noise can have an expressive content. However, in the majority's view "while all expressive content is worthy of protection, the method or location of the expression may not be". Thus an amplification of music onto a public street may be protected as long as it does not impede the public's use of the area for passage or communication. In the end the final determinant is whether the "free expression in a given place undermines the values underlying" the Charter right of freedom of expression. To determine this the historical function of the public area must be reviewed as well determining whether or not the expression undermines free "democratic discourse, truth finding, and self-fulfilment." The majority upheld the municipal bylaw as a valid justifiable restriction.

Justice Binnie, writing the dissent, disagreed the bylaw was benign and justified. His comments on expressive content is interesting. Based on the Larousse definition of noise or bruit in French, is not intrinsically a nuisance. Binnie's concern over the wide breadth of the bylaw included the scenario of a McGill student listening to Mozart with the window open or Stephen Hawking amplifying his voice through his voice assistance device. He found the legislation unjustifiable. 

Expressive content as a signifier of Charter rights under s.2(b) in the end is not the full expression of what s.2(b) protects. Shifting society values is ultimately what gives our Charter meaning. But values do shift. Once Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was considered "noise" and even, according to Goethe, "a threat to civilisation." So what is noise today may very well be the music of the future.

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? 

Freedom Of Expression In The Classroom

This morning, the Alberta Court of Appeal will hear arguments on the Pridgen case. As discussed in yesterday's post, Pridgen rests on the issue of freedom of expression on campus and whether non-academic misconduct resulting from Facebook postings criticising an University professor was a justifiable restriction under the Charter. If, however, we tweak the case and re-imagine it, we come up with a different, yet related, freedom of expression dilemma: the expressive rights of teachers in a classroom.

The discussion will not refer to Keegstra or Ross, who through their expression promoted discrimination and hatred. Instead, the discussion will be about Mr. Morin, an untenured and untested teacher at a Prince Edward Island Junior High School. Mr. Morin's first year of teaching goes by smoothly and uneventfully and he is contracted to teach again. His second year, however, is much more controversial.

One evening, Mr. Morin watches a PBS documentary entitled "Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done" and he is devastated. The raw documentary exposes the corrupt side of the fundamental Christian movement of the late 80s and its connection to American politics. Much of the documentary focuses on the scandal-ridden Jimmy Bakker, his wife Tammy Faye, and the PTL Church.

Mr. Morin sees a teaching opportunity in the documentary and decides to show the film to his grade 9 class in connection to a writing assignment on "What Religion Means To Different People." After the viewing of the documentary in class, the Principal receives complaints and directs Mr. Morin to stop the assignment. Mr. Morin will take his right to express himself in the classroom all the way to the highest Appeal Court in his province, and he will do it on his own and without the benefit of counsel.

The PEISCAD (PEI Appeal Court) agreed with Mr. Morin, although not unanimously. The majority of the Court, found expressive content in Morin's assignment, consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada's liberal interpretation of the freedom of expression under the Charter. Moreover, the right involves not only the teacher, who is expressing viewpoints in an effort to exchange and stimulate "opinions and ideas," but involves the students' right

in a democratic society to have access to free expression by their teachers - encouraging diversity, critical thinking, and vigorous debate ... students have a right to hear this expression and benefit from it...this right of students is fundamental to their being citizens in a truly democratic state and students of that states' educational system.

The right of a teacher, therefore, to express himself transcends the classroom and is elevated, thereby becoming a core concept of our society's fundamental values as reflected and protected by the Charter.

As we grow older and look back on our education, we recall those teachers who taught us without fear or prejudice. Thank you, Mr. Morin for reminding us.

The Pridgen Case and Freedom of Speech On the Canadian Campus

Tomorrow, the Alberta Court of Appeal will hear arguments on the Pridgen case. The issue involves the use of Facebook postings to criticize a University of Calgary professor, contrary to the student code of conduct. In the lower court case, Madam Justice Strekaf considered whether the subsequent finding of non-academic misconduct by the Pridgen brothers was a violation of freedom of expression under s.2(b) of the Charter. Ultimately she ruled there was a violation and the restriction could not be justified under s.1 of the Charter.

The issue of freedom of speech on campus is troubling. Universities are seen as the defender of academic independence and the protector of free thought. Through this freedom, critical thought is created, nourished, and encouraged. Innovation and excellence is the by-product of free thought. To restrict it, results in a withering effect and a loss of free debate on controversial issues. Thus, there is a societal interest in protecting free expression on campus. Our democratic tradition demands it.

On the other hand, as mentioned in previous posts, freedom of expression is not absolute under our Canadian Charter. Speech can be restricted but only if justified in a free and democratic society. There have been campus cases where Facebook postings were restricted justifiably. Those cases, however, involved threats of harm attracting Criminal Code sanctions. In contrast, the Pridgen case involved no threats and there was no evidence of resultant "injury" before the discipline council. Certainly, the comments were unkind, but were they the kind of expression we want to restrict on a University campus?

The answer will be left to the Court on Wednesday when the freedom to express oneself on campus will be tested. We will await the decision to see if the Pridgen brothers receive a pass or a fail.



Part Two: Occupying Public Space

Yesterday, I outlined the tension between the City and the Occupy movement over the tent city erected in the City's public spaces. Although, municipal legislation prohibts the camp, it has, to this date, not been enforced. Why? Initially, no doubt, the thought was occupy Calgary would make their point and move on. No "strong arm of the law," means no trouble. Unfortunately, that tactic has proven to be wrong. The Occupy movement has no plans to move their campsite, even in the face of declining public support (petitions) and despite alternative offers of living space. It appears a Western style show-down is inevitable and the only question is how soon before the matter is before the Courts. 

What would happen if the matter did go before the Courts? Two cases, involving protest in two very different Canadian Cities, may help answer this question.

First we go to Ottawa. It is 1994 and a Peace Camp, to protest cruise missile testing, is erected on the lawn of the Parliament building. Indeed, the protesters had a presence, in one form or another, in front of Parliament since 1983. An attempt to dismantle the camp led to various court actions. At the heart of the debate was the expressive quality of the protest: if the Peace Camp attempted to convey or did convey a meaning, then, Weisfeld the leader of the protest, could argue an infringement of s. 2(b) of the Charter, freedom of expression.

The Federal Court of Appeal agreed with Weisfeld: the structure, and the presence of other accouterments of the protest (brochures, pamphlets, signs, and the like), indicated there was a meaning conveyed by the Peace Camp itself. However, as discussed yesterday, the decision does not rest on a violation. An infringement of a right still requires a further analysis based on s. 1 of the Charter. Is this violation justified in a free and democratic society? Enter, the government to establish that indeed, it is, or the legislation restricting the right is invalid. The end result in Ottawa was a save by the government. On the s.1 analysis the removal of Weisfeld was justified. Exit the Peace Camp.

Fast forward fifteen years to Vancouver where the Falun Gong erected banners and a "make-shift shelter" in front of the Chinese Consulate, contrary to a City By-law. The City sought an injunction to remove the protest, which was granted. The Falun Gong appealed to the British Columbia Court of Appeal.

Following Weisfeld, the Court agreed there was a violation of s.2(b) as the structures had expressive content being "part and parcel" of the Falun Gong protest. That is where the similarities end. The BCCA did not find the bylaw saved under the s.1 analysis. In the Court's view, the prohibition did not minimally impair the legitimate right to engage in political protest; a cherished Charter value residing at the very core of our democracy. In a word, the by-law was over broad and captured legitimate forms of expression.

After that Canada-wide tour, we are now back in Calgary. What conclusions can we draw based on these other cases? Clearly, the occupy protest has an expressive quality which is protected by s.2(b) of the Charter. However, whether the City ordinance will be a justifiable intrusion on that right is questionable and dependent on a number of factors, including the type of evidence the municipality will proffer to justify the legislation.

Whatever the outcome, this much is clear, the protesters are here to stay for the near future. Indeed, no Canadian City has successfully evicted the movement. In the end, when the dust is settled and the shoot-out is over, this gun-fight might just be a draw.

Freedom of Expression: Occupying Public Space Part One

For weeks now, we have been inundated with the details of the Occupy movement. We know where they are, what they are protesting about, and in this age of technology, we can watch them on our computers. We can also watch the City authorities walk in circles as they try to avoid clashing with the protesters. Some cities have not avoided harm: Occupy Oakland is a good example. But other cities, like Calgary, have tried to give the Occupy movement a wide berth. Unfortunately, patience is now wearing thin with the municipal authorities, the press, and the public, as Occupy Calgary refuse to leave the public space provided to them. This has all the ingredients of a classic Western show-down. 

On the one hand, we have the Charter right of s. 2(b) freedom of expression and on the other, municipal by-laws prohibiting camping in public parks. Up to now, the City has not enforced the by-law and allowed the Occupy movement to inhabit the public space (Canada Olympic Plaza in downtown Calgary). But as the authorities begin to consider ending the occupation, the show-down between the Charter and the City looms. 

This conundrum is, of course, typical Charter fodder: a fundamental freedom is violated and the government must establish the intrusion is justifiable in a free and democratic society under s. 1 of the Charter. In this, our Charter differs dramatically form the American Constitution as our rights are guaranteed yet limited under the Charter : no rights are absolute, yet the s.1 analysis is rigorous. The analysis requires the right to be minimally impaired by the legislation, to be proportionately restrained, and the limit must have a rational connection to the valid legislative purpose of the law. It is a balancing act, which may lead to legislative death but it can also lead to legislative discourse between the Courts and the government. This dialogue can assist in re-framing legislation, which fulfills its objective, but in a Charter friendly manner.

Thankfully, we Canadians are not protest-shy and there are legal precedents to help guide the Occupiers and the Municipal landlords. Join me in tomorrow's post, as I navigate us through the legal side of the issue by looking at Ottawa and Vancouver.

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. 


Wristbands Are In Effect: The "Keep A Breast" Campaign

My daughter is an engaged and informed teen. She reads the news and we discuss controversial issues as a family. She speaks out against injustice and lends her support to marginalized groups. Recently, she showed her support when she and a group of friends attended the gay pride parade. It was a positive experience from which she learned that tolerance and diversity are essential values to a healthy and vibrant community. In short, she is a good citizen.

The other day, after a trip to the nearby shopping mall, she came home flushed with excitement. She had "purchased," using her own money, three silicone "message" wristbands in support of breast cancer. As she proudly displayed the colourful wristbands, she read them out: "I Love Boobies," two of them said; "Check Yourself (Keep A Breast), the other said. To me this was clever messaging in a teen-friendly package. As they "say" Facebook, I "like" it and give it a "thumbs up."

Photo on 2011-10-17 at 18.32.jpg

On the weekend, I read, in the newspaper, about parents in British Columbia who don't like it. They find the wristbands offensive and distracting. So much so, the local school banned them. I did what any instructor of human rights would do, I cut out the article for my class.

Today in class, we discussed our fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Charter, specifically the right under s.2(b) as:

the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication

The discussion ran through many controversial examples of expression such as public nudity, burlesque dancing, t-shirts depicting violence against women, and even irreligious album covers. The discussion around these issues was often heated and divisive, but then we discussed the wristbands. In this discussion, everyone was in accord with each other: the wristbands are not offensive as they express an important public health message. The message was a cause to support, not to banish.

In a similar case, the United States District Court agreed. According to Madame Justice Mclaughlin, the school imposed ban of the wristbands was found to be an unconstitutional violation of the students' First Amendment rights.

What would happen here in Canada? Considering the Supreme Court of Canada's broad and expansive reading of freedom of expression, there is no doubt the wristbands would be protected expression. Whether or not the code of conduct limiting this expression, would survive s.1 reasonable limit scrutiny requires a more nuanced analysis. I am inclined to believe this prohibiton would not survive Charter scrutiny. A school code with such broadly based prohibitions would not minimally impair a student's right to express themselves. 

In the end, the choice is a personal one. To me, however, the choice is clear: I Love Boobies!


on 2011-10-19 17:02 by Lisa A. Silver

Consider this: The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council okays Buchcherry's song entitled Crazy Bitch as it is "not abusive" but "I Love (heart symbol) Boobies" breast cancer wristbands are banned and branded offensive. Go figure?