Bill Whatcott and lawyer Tom Schuck at the Supreme Court of Canada in 2012. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

$104 million lawsuit against Bill Whatcott threatens free speech

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  • August 31, 2016

OTTAWA – A $104-million class-action lawsuit against a prominent anti-gay activist poses a threat to anyone defending traditional Christian sexual morality, warned a Catholic lawyer.

Tom Schuck, a member of the Catholic Civil Rights League, believes a lawsuit against Bill Whatcott, which stems from Toronto Pride Parade in July, could set a dangerous precedent. It was announced Aug. 12 by lawyer Douglas Elliott in Ottawa, who was joined by lead plaintiffs George Smitherman, the former Liberal deputy premier of Ontario, and gay activist Christopher Hudspeth.

“It’s really not Bill Whatcott who’s at issue and people included in the claim,” said Schuck, who represented Schuck pro bono all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada on hate speech charges and on several other cases, but will not represent him in this case. “It’s anybody who speaks out on traditional Christian sexual morality that is threatened.

“If Bill Whatcott can be sued for hurting the feelings of gay people, then the Catholic Church can be sued for hurting the feelings of gay people by what they put in the catechism,” said the Weyburn, Sask., lawyer.

Lea Singh, editor of the online magazine Culture Witness, shares Schuck’s concern.

“Lawsuits like this are a direct threat to the lively public debate that is vital to a flourishing democracy,” said Singh, a lawyer. “They make people afraid of speaking up for fear of being financially destroyed by high legal fees.”

Elliott described two classes of plaintiffs: those represented by Hudspeth and Smitherman, who signed up to march in the Toronto Pride Parade, and parade attendees who were handed pamphlets that Elliott said are similar to those the Supreme Court has described as hate speech.

Elliott claims that Whatcott entered the parade under an assumed name, claiming to represent a group called the Gay Zombies Cannabis Consumers’ Association, and then he distributed pamphlets without obtaining prior approval from parade organizers. The suit also seeks an injunction to bar Whatcott from doing this again.

In addition, the suit seeks damages from anyone who may have assisted Whatcott, such as “those who paid for airfare, put him up, paid to print the pamphlets, anyone who helped him in any way could be on the hook for $100 million,” said Elliott.

The lawsuit also includes a subgroup of plaintiffs, Liberals who marched in the parade and who were “defamed” by the pamphlets, Elliott said, such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, and “all known and self-identified Liberals who marched in the parade.”

Singh believes the case should be “thrown out of court.”

“Most people would probably laugh at the suggestion that Whatcott’s flyers in any way harmed the reputations of Justin Trudeau or Kathleen Wynne, or caused mental anguish for over a million people,” she said.

Elliott said all class members are “automatically included” unless they opt out in a court process that will be available later. The lawsuit says Whatcott and his group were part of a “civil conspiracy” and caused “mental suffering.”

Campaign Life Coalition also received a legal letter regarding a story posted on LifeSiteNews.com about Whatcott’s actions at the parade. The story included a link to what the letter called Whatcott’s “offensive literature.”

“By publishing this story with the link, you have published a libel against our clients and have acted in furtherance of Whatcott’s civil conspiracy,” it said.

Campaign Life responded to the letter by stating it was not involved in publishing the story or in helping Whatcott, said president Jim Hughes. LifeSiteNews is a separate legal entity.

LifeSiteNews co-founder and managing editor Steve Jalsevac said they have not heard from the plaintiffs and he doubted he would “because their complaint about LifeSite is a very huge stretch.”

“Essentially they are demanding any news service cannot report the complete news about Whatcott and what his associates did during that Gay Pride Parade,” he said.

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