A (Limited) Victory for Freedom of Expression in Canada:

In You Can’t Say That!, I recounted the following troubling incident:

the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission ordered the Saskatoon Star Phoenix newspaper and Hugh Owens to each pay $1,500 (appoximately $1,000 U.S.) to each of three gay activists as damages for publication of an advertisement placed by Owens conveying the message that the Bible condemns homosexual acts. The ad conveyed this message by citing passages from the Bible, with an equal sign placed between the verse references and a drawing of two males holding hands [actually, I’ve learned, stick figures] overlaid with the universal nullification symbol–a red circle with a diagonal bar.

Courtesy of my friend (and Canadian law prof) Moin Yahya, I learn that the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal has overturned the ruling against Owens in this decision. Unfortunately, this is only a limited victory for freedom of expression in Canada, because the opinion does not find the the ad was constitutionally protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Rather the court found that it would interpret the relevant statute narrowly in light of the Charter, and concluded that the ad did not expose gays to hatred, or ridicule or belittle them, or otherwise affront their dignity, in violation of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.

This is certainly a welcome result, but a ruling that the the Human Rights Code unconstitutionally infringes on freedom of expression would have been even better. As it now stands, I doubt any newspaper would publish a future advertisement resembling Owens’ for fear that a future court would find that such an ad did violate the code.

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