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Court Decision Supports Publisher’s Right to Deny Anti-gay Advertising

September 9, 2016

On September 6, 2016 the Court of Queen’s Bench determined that the Regina Leader-Post did not discriminate when it refused to publish an advertisement deemed to be anti-gay.

Mr. Hugh Owens purchased advertising in the Regina Leader-Post between 1997 and 2012. In 2013, the Regina Leader-Post newspaper declined to publish an advertisement from Mr. Owens based on the grounds that the content was offensive to its readership. The advertisement was comprised of selected Bible verses that denounce homosexuality.

Mr. Owens felt that he had been discriminated against on the basis of religion. While the Commission acknowledged that the advertisement could be considered offensive to members of the LGBTQ community, there appeared to be a conflict between freedom of expression, for both Mr. Owens and the Leader-Post, and Mr. Owens right to freedom of religion.

As part of an individual’s religious practice, a person has the right to publish their religious beliefs.  “Publication” can include religious texts and extracts from religious texts. At the same time, publishers have the right to determine the editorial content of their publications (i.e., freedom of expression). Like all other businesses, publishers are required to act in a non-discriminatory manner.

To address the apparent conflict between freedom of expression and freedom of religion, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission referred Mr. Owens’ complaint to the Court of Queen’s Bench so that the Court could determine how these competing rights should be resolved. The Commission did so based on the position that the courts are best placed to evaluate the possible impact of discrimination on freedom of expression.

In his decision, Justice Daryl Brown observed that, “resolution of conflicts amongst various rights, must be accomplished on a case by case basis with close attention being paid to the facts in each instance,” and that given the facts of this situation, “there has been no discrimination.”

The Court accepted that the advertisement ran counter to the core values of the Leader-Post. It was also found that Mr. Owens was not refused because of faith or religion, or that he had been treated differently from other individuals who seek to place an advertisement that may offend. The Court also found that Mr. Owens could communicate his beliefs in ways other than advertising in the Leader-Post.

The Commission accepts Justice Brown’s decision as it applies to this situation.  This decision is a matter of law and it may have applicability to other situations.