ARPA Video Update: Whatcott Supreme Court Case
In 2011, ARPA Canada prepared a Notice of Motion to the Supreme Court of Canada in the case Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission v. William Whatcott. Although the court did not accept us as intervenors, our Legal Counsel André Schutten was allowed to sit with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada legal counsel when the Supreme Court heard the case. See the article below the video update for context as to why this case really matters for the freedom to live our faith.
Many months have passed since the court heard the case but no decision has been made yet. ARPA Canada urges our readers to pray for the court, that they might uphold our fundamental freedoms, especially when it comes to living a life in accordance with God’s Word.
What follows is the 2011 article that we wrote prior to the case being heard:
ARPA Canada Requests Intervenor Status with Supreme Court, urging Freedom for Christians to be able to Express Faith Publicly
Christians ought to be paying very close attention to the case Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission v. William Whatcott that is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada this fall. The outcome will impact whether we are allowed to publicly apply our faith to social or political issues when our faith is viewed as offensive to some. ARPA Canada is urging our readers to learn more about this case, to pray for a good outcome, and also to pray for our application to intervene before the Supreme Court.
The Controversial Man Behind the Case
Bill Whatcott is no ordinary Canadian. His years of childhood and youth were marked by numerous foster homes, living on the street by age 14, drug use and an addiction to glue sniffing, and even homosexuality. But his life shifted 180 degrees when Whatcott became a Christian. Since then he has became a nurse and has been able to care for many homosexuals dying of AIDS. He also has made it a life mission to speak out to our secular society about the danger and evil of the homosexual lifestyle, abortion, and even Islam. Whatcott regularly prints and distributes graphic flyers critical of homosexuality and abortion in cities across Canada. His flyers and posters are generally brazen and met with much opposition.
For those who are aware of our country’s human rights commissions, it probably does not come as a surprise that Whatcott’s flyers resulted in human rights complaints. Many Christians who publicly speak out against homosexuality have had to face these HRC’s (see ARPA’s campaign www.HumanRightsCommissions.ca for more information).
Whatcott was found guilty by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal because his actions violated Section 14 of the province’s Human Rights Code. That section is so vague and subjective that it is possible that a sermon delivered from a Reformed church in this country could be found to be contrary to the same section. And this does not just apply in Saskatchewan. Most provinces, as well as the federal HRC, have similar codes that have been used in similar ways. The bottom line is that if Christians communicate something that could “affront the dignity of any person” on a prohibited ground (i.e. sexual orientation) we are guilty of a human rights offense.
Now some may jump in here and point out that Whatcott’s flyers are by no means an example of grace-filled truth. Some of them are distasteful and, in our opinion, not the appropriate way for Christians to communicate. But that is not the point. This case is about the boundaries of freedom. If Whatcott does not have the freedom to publicly express his faith-based perspective about a current social or political issue because it is perceived as offensive, the very same accusations will apply to us because the definition of what is offensive or what affronts someone’s dignity is completely subjective.
The Case and the Consequences Grow
Thankfully, Whatcott showed the initiative to appeal the tribunal’s decision. Although the first level of appeal failed (the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench favoured the Tribunal’s ruling), Whatcott appealed again to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. These courts are subject to the due process of law, unlike our human rights commissions. The Court of Appeal overturned the tribunal ruling, which was a big victory for freedom-loving Canadians. However, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission was not happy with that decision. They appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which agreed to hear the case.
The Supreme Court is not just deciding whether Whatcott should be able to distribute his flyers. The stakes are much higher. They are deciding a much broader question: does that section of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code contravene the fundamental freedoms that are guaranteed by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms? If the Court upholds this section of the Saskatchewan Code, the decision will apply to all provinces as well as the federal HRC. It will be a serious blow to everyone who has been hoping that the human rights commissions be reformed or even done away with completely. However, if the Supreme Court rules in favour of Whatcott, the outcome will be momentous. All of the federal and provincial human rights codes with sections similar to this one will have to be changed to guarantee that our fundamental freedoms are protected. That would be a huge victory and would go a long way towards allowing Christians to be public with our faith.
ARPA Seeking Intervention Status
We aren’t the only ones who recognize the high stakes in this case. Twenty-three organizations (far more than other Supreme Court cases) have applied to intervene in this case, including ARPA Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, EGALE (homosexual lobby group), the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and the United Church of Canada. Thankfully, a few other Christian organizations have also applied.
What does it mean to intervene? Our Canadian court system allows organizations to become a part of a case and present arguments before the court if the organization will be directly impacted by the outcome and if they will present a perspective that is not already before the court. For many years this has been done by groups that have an interest in challenging the traditional family unit. Given that our mission is to equip Reformed Christians to political action, there is little doubt that we (and even the Reformed churches in general) will be directly affected by the outcome. The possibility of reforming the country’s human rights commissions is also very dear to us. We are very grateful for the assistance of Ottawa lawyer Albertos Polizogopulos and our soon-to-be Legal Counsel and Ontario Director André Schutten for their excellent work in preparing our submissions to the Court.
It has already become apparent that there are strong forces who do not want ARPA and the other Christian organizations to intervene in this case. We really need your prayers. Pray that the judge who considers these applications will be receptive to our request, and that our arguments for freedom will be taken to heart.
Looking Forward – Your Role
If ARPA Canada is granted intervener status, the court will inform us how long of a factum (written arguments) we may file, and whether we may also give oral arguments. If we are not given intervener status, we are still grateful that we have had the opportunity to provide some of our arguments to the Court and we will follow the case closely.
Regardless of whether we are permitted to intervene, please pray for the case as it proceeds. Subscribe to our newsletter at www.ARPACanada.ca to follow the developments. Also, if God gives you the means, please consider making a one-time or monthly donation to ARPA Canada so that we have the funds to do this work now and into the future.
Thank you very much for the support you have provided already so that this is possible. May God receive all glory. And may we make use of the freedom that we already have to lift up his Name in our land.