Justice Centre defends freedom of expression in Oger v. Whatcott BC Human Rights hearing

The Justice Centre will make oral submissions to the BC Human Rights Tribunal today, in defence of freedom of expression, as an intervenor in the hearing of Oger v. Whatcott (No. 16408), which is expected to run throughout the week.

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”.

The Justice Centre will be providing 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.  In particular, the Justice Centre’s submissions will focus 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 is highly inappropriate.   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.

“Political expression is the lifeblood of democracy, and cannot be limited, especially not during elections,” explains lawyer and Justice Centre president John Carpay. “Whether particular claims and assertions are correct or not should be decided by citizens themselves, not by government deciding on everyone’s behalf,” continued Carpay.