The Politics of Hate Speech: A Case Comment on Warman v Lemire

Ranjan K. Agarwal


In September 2009, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal waded into a highly public and acrimonious debate about the role of human rights tribunals and commissions, especially in policing hate speech. In Warman v Lemire,1 the Tribunal held that section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act2 (CHRA), which prohibits the communication of hate messages, infringed the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression, section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.3 The decision added to a firestorm of media, political and academic debate about whether anti-discrimination statutes should prohibit hate speech. The Warman decision is complicated by a twenty-year-old Supreme Court ruling, in a 4–3 decision, that a predecessor provision in the CHRA is constitutional.

In this article, I argue that the Tribunal’s decision is logically unsound and likely the result of ends-based or teleological reasoning. In my view, ends-based reasoning does not assist in Charter analysis as it produces decisions that call into question the legitimacy of the courts. This article first outlines the facts in Warman and the Tribunal’s holding on the constitutional issues. It goes on to survey the legal and constitutional background to the Warman decision and discuss the Taylor precedent. It then describes the Tribunal’s reasoning on constitutional issues, including the Taylor decision and amendments to the CHRA after Taylor. Finally, it criticizes the Tribunal’s ends-based reasoning and argues that this type of reasoning is illegitimate in constitutional decision-making.

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