Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Paul Jeffrey has dismissed a Crown appeal of a decision from a lower court that acquitted Bill Whatcott of trespassing charges for distributing “Truth about homosexuality” pamphlets at the University of Calgary in 2008.
On Friday, March 30, Jeffrey upheld the November 2011 ruling by provincial court Judge John D. Bascom that stated the University of Calgary infringed on Whatcott’s Charter rights to freedom of expression when campus security arrested and detained him for distributing a pamphlet that addressed the “harmful consequences” of homosexuality.
The university had argued that the Charter only applied to “government actors and government actions,” not to the university itself since it was a private entity.
Bascom ruled, however, that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to the University of Calgary since “the University is not a Charter free zone,” in that it carried out “specific” governmental work by providing post-secondary education to the public in Alberta, making its actions subject to scrutiny under the Charter.
“Mr. Whatcott entered the university property with a purpose to distribute his literature to students, staff and public,” said the judge, adding, “His activity was peaceful and presented no harm to the university structures or those who frequented the campus. … Although Mr. Whatcott’s pamphlet is not scholarly, freedom of speech is not limited to academic works.”
Bascom concluded that “the means used by campus security halted Mr. Whatcott’s distribution of these flyers and violated his right of free expression.”
The judge also lifted the University’s ban against Whatcott that would have indefinitely prohibited him from setting foot on the campus again, stating that the ban was “arbitrary and unfair.”
Do you all remember that the University of Calgary is one of the ones that harassed pro-lifers with armed policemen? That’s still better than Carleton University, which actually had pro-lifers arrested by armed policemen.
This Alberta ruling dovetails nicely with a 2010 ruling from the province of Saskatchewan:
In 2010 Whatcott won an appeal in Saskatchewan when Justice Darla Hunter of Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal overturned a 2006 Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal ruling that found him guilty of violating the province’s human rights code by publicly criticizing homosexuality through a series of flyers he distributed in Saskatoon and Regina in 2001 and 2002.
The tribunal had ordered Whatcott to pay $17,500 and imposed a “lifetime” ban on his freedom to publicly criticize homosexuality.
In her decision Justice Hunter ruled that Whatcott did not violate section 14(1)(b) of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code by distributing flyers to oppose the teaching of homosexuality in Saskatoon’s public schools.
“It is acceptable, in a democracy, for individuals to comment on the morality of another’s behaviour. … Anything that limits debate on the morality of behaviour is an intrusion on the right to freedom of expression,” Justice Hunter had remarked.
Alberta and Saskatchewan are the two most conservative provinces in Canada. Let’s hope that other provinces move in the same direction.