Expression of honestly-held beliefs during an election campaign censored

Oger v. Whatcott

Expression of honestly-held beliefs during an election campaign censored

Oger v. Whatcott

The Justice Centre intervened in the hearing of Oger v Whatcott (No. 16408) in the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

During the 2017 British Columbia provincial election campaign, activist Bill Whatcott handed out over 1,000 flyers in the electoral district of Vancouver False Creek. The flyer expressed Whatcott’s opinions and “concern about the promotion and growth of homosexuality and transvestitism in British Columbia.” In his flyers, Whatcott asserted that NDP candidate Morgane Oger was a male, and argued that “[t]hose who promote falsehoods like the NDP and BC’s major media . . . do so to their eternal peril.”

Oger narrowly lost the campaign to a former Vancouver mayor.

Oger filed a human rights complaint against Whatcott, alleging that Whatcott’s flyers had exposed Oger to discrimination, hatred and contempt under section 7 of the BC Human Rights Code.

In December of 2017, the Tribunal granted the Justice Centre permission to intervene in this case, to make submissions in defence of freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The Tribunal noted that the Justice Centre “may provide useful input … with regard to the law”.

At a five- day hearing before the Human Rights Tribunal, running December 11-14th and 17th, 2018, the Justice Centre provided oral and written submissions concerning the interpretation and application of the freedom of expression, guaranteed under section 2(b) of the Charter, in the Tribunal’s adjudication of the complaint and the complainant’s applications for costs.  In particular, the Justice Centre’s submissions focused on the critical importance of freedom of expression to the democratic discourse, especially during elections.
In this context, censoring expression of honest beliefs and views made during an election campaign runs directly contrary to the values underlying freedom of expression and the right to vote under section 3 of the Charter.
The purpose of election campaigns is to sift false allegations from true allegations, poor character from good character, and bad policies from good policies. To achieve this, citizens must not be prevented from expressing their beliefs and to criticize candidates openly and publicly. Likewise, if the Tribunal only to permits the electorate to hear censored opinions and approved beliefs, Canada’s democracy will become a sham.
The Tribunal released its decision on March 27, 2019, ruling that Mr. Whatcott had violated section 7 of the BC Human Rights Code and ordering that he pay $55,000 in damages.

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