$104 million lawsuit against Christian activist threatens to chill free speech in Canada
The word “expensive” is the most powerful weapon in bullies' war chest
The Gay Zombies Cannabis Consumers Association
Canada’s commitment to free speech is about to be tested in a major new case involving Bill Whatcott, a Saskatchewan nurse and Christian activist whose leaflets were the subject of a 2013 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. This time, Whatcott has been slapped with a C$104 million lawsuit by two of Ontario’s most prominent gay heavyweights: iconic activist Christopher Hudspeth and former Liberal Deputy Premier George Smitherman.
They are suing Whatcott for mental distress on behalf of Toronto's entire gay community and for libel against various Liberal leaders including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The lawsuit stems from Whatcott’s activities at this year’s Toronto’s Pride, which Whatcott and a handful of others managed to infiltrate while dressed as “gay zombies” in green suits. They handed out leaflets which graphically warned about the health dangers of gay sex and accused the Liberal party of being in cahoots with the gay agenda.
In one sense this lawsuit is a victory for Whatcott, since his tactics have clearly managed to rattle the gay establishment all the way to its very top, and now they are providing him with free publicity. But in another sense, this lawsuit is a surprise and a mystery. Whatcott’s confrontational brand of activism has gained him more appearances before human rights commissions than followers. Why would eminences like Hudspeth and Smitherman stoop to pay attention to a tiny fringe group without financial leverage, political clout or social following?
After all, the vast majority of Pride’s over one million participants never came into contact with Whatcott’s 3000 tiny squares of paper. And so the plaintiffs’ allegations of “mental distress” on behalf of all Pride participants, just like their allegations of libel, read almost comically. Even Danielle McLaughlin, former Education Director at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, who herself marched at Pride and describes Whatcott as a “homophobic sexist”, couldn’t help mockingthe plaintiffs’ allegations in the Huffington Post:
“Really? What kind of damage have they suffered as a result of Whatcott's flyers? Has former Ontario deputy premier George Smitherman, one of the lead plaintiffs, lost status in the community because of Whatcott's flyers? Did the Prime Minister have to go into hiding because of the publications (or did he march in two subsequent Pride parades?) Did my LGBTQ family members and friends experience pain and suffering as a result of Whatcott's words? Not that I noticed or heard about.”
Their class action lawsuit may seem ridiculous, but Hudspeth and Smitherman know exactly what they are doing. This is a fear campaign, intended to chill the speech of all Christian activists and journalists who may be critical of the gay agenda. The demand for $103 million is meant to show just how giant the plaintiffs’ boxing gloves are, threatening financial ruin to all those who dare squeak in opposition.
The real targets are none other than Campaign Life Coalition, Canada’s largest pro-life organization, and LifeSiteNews, a Canadian pro-life news agency which has been described as “the most widely read pro-life news service in the world”.
Campaign Life and LifeSite have no relation to Whatcott and his zombies, but Hudspeth and Smitherman have already found a way to pull them into the vortex. Just days after launching their lawsuit against Whatcott, the plaintiffs’ lawyers sent a notice to Campaign Life Coalition, demanding that LifeSite immediately take down its news story about the zombies’ activities at Pride and its link to Whatcott’s flyers. Otherwise, CLC can expect to get sued for taking part in Whatcott’s alleged conspiracy to cause mental harm and libel. The plaintiffs’ notice ended with the ominous words of a playground bully: “Govern yourselves accordingly”.
In a rather amusing misstep, no one at the plaintiffs’ law firm apparently bothered to check their facts, and so they failed to learn that Campaign Life Coalition does not operate LifeSite, which is a separate legal entity. This may well foil their attempt to implicate CLC, but LifeSite may still become embroiled in yet another expensive legal battle on behalf of the freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
And that’s just it: the word “expensive” is the most powerful weapon that Hudspeth and Smitherman have in their arsenal, and they know it. The giant financial burden of a lawsuit shortcuts the legal process and transforms the trial proceedings into a punishment for whatever claim has been asserted.
Whatcott has started a GoGetFunding campaign to raise $50,000 for his legal costs. This is a gravely burdensome amount of money for the average Canadian, and that’s just the start of the legal battle. Even for a small nonprofit organization like LifeSite, dependent on private donations and operated on a shoestring budget, such an amount can tip them dangerously close to financial crisis. And what solace is there in an eventual victory for a person or organization that has been rendered bankrupt by the time the verdict is announced?
So never mind the unrealistic $103 million claim. Even the prospect of $50,000 in legal fees can propel cash-strapped activists and journalists into self-censorship. It takes real heroism, and a bit of admirable folly, to risk losing the roof overhead in order to take advantage of one’s supposed liberties. The mirage of freedom frequently dissipates against the hard reality of one’s empty pocketbook.
Yes, the prospect of sky-high legal fees is real and frightening. And this fear, this lasting visceral fear which pauses people before they speak and silences their thoughts, is the real harm of a preposterous lawsuit that is destined to fizzle out.
Winston Churchill once famously said: “Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
I am not immune to fear, but I know that fear must be resisted. The bully must not win, or we will all lose and Canada will become a country we no longer recognize, where freedom is only a word without meaning.
Lea Singh writes from Ottawa, Canada. She blogs at Culture Witness.
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