Handing out anti-gay flyers at Toronto Pride was reprehensible, but not a hate crime, judge rules

An Alberta man may hold reprehensible views, but he was not guilty of promoting hatred when he handed out graphic pamphlets at the 2016 Toronto Pride parade that made various claims, including, “Homosexuality is incompatible with human nature.” .

Shortly after the 2016 parade, the Toronto Police Service launched an investigation after receiving a complaint about the steering wheel. In 2018, William Whatcott was charged with one count of deliberate hate promotion.

On Friday, after a lengthy trial, Superior Court Judge Robert Goldstein said while acquitting Whatcott of the charge due to “the gray area between legitimate expression and hate speech,” adding that Whatcott “should not take this result as a claim or as an endorsement of their views. “

“Our values ​​as a free society, and our centuries-old legal tradition, require that our system does not criminalize those who hold views that are simply disgusting and unpopular,” Goldstein said, reading his reasons in court as Whatcott and others watched and listened to. through zoom. “We take this approach not because we like or approve of Mr. Whatcott’s views, but because protecting speech that we don’t like, or even despise, protects everyone in a free and democratic society.”

Goldstein referred to the “wacky costumes” that Whatcott and a handful of others wore – greenskin suits and masks – as they handed out material for their brochures, which they “surely knew would cause a stir.

“In other words, they got into a stunt, possibly it was a juvenile and offensive stunt, I suspect that for Mr. Whatcott and his associates that was the point.”

Debate over whether the flyers Whatcott distributed in Saskatchewan in the early 2000s were protected by the right to religious freedom reached the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in 2013 that two brochures violated the country’s human rights code. Province.

This time, he faced a criminal charge, said his attorney, John Rosen. “He has never been convicted of a hate crime.” Because there could be an appeal, Rosen said she would prefer not to comment on the merits of the decision at this time.

“My client is grateful for the acquittal. He is a devout Christian whose sole intention was to follow his beliefs. He never set out to commit a crime and has maintained his innocence throughout this long and difficult case. Now he just wants to get on with his life. “

Attorney Doug Elliott said he was deeply disappointed with the ruling. Earlier this year, he was recognized by the University of Toronto School of Law for his work advocating for the rights of Canada’s LGBTQ community.

“If this garbage is not hateful, I don’t know what would be hateful,” he wrote in an email to the Star.

“This ruling is proof once again that LBGT people remain fair targets of hatred, at least as far as our judges are concerned. The criminal justice system has repeatedly failed us, ”he wrote. Elliott added that he hopes there will be an appeal.

“Otherwise, our community will face another avalanche of hatred from fans emboldened by this ruling.”

A class action lawsuit that Elliott filed against Whatcott and others was settled alleging that the flyers constituted hate speech, the attorney said.

Also on Friday, Pride Toronto’s Primeau Alan expressed disappointment at the ruling. He noted that Whatcott registered to participate in the parade that year under false pretenses.

“This verdict sends the message that hate crimes against identifiable groups are still acceptable,” he wrote in a statement posted on Pride Toronto’s social media channels. “For our 2SLGBTQ + community, today we share their anger and sadness, but we remain committed to calling out and fighting hate in all its forms.”

The trial had numerous “security incidents” that led the judge to order all phones to be collected in the courtroom after he learned that people were illegally recording the proceedings.


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