Bill Whatcott once again faces the prospect of spending time in jail. The Regina pro-life activist was found guilty of distributing graphic anti-abortion leaflets on the campus of that city’s university last May.
University of Regina security officers ticketed Whatcott under the university’s traffic and parking bylaw. When asked to remove the flyers, Whatcott refused and charges were laid.
Justice of the Peace, Bob Eaton, refused to accept Whatcott’s contention that his freedom of speech had been violated, instead ordering Whatcott to pay a fine of $90 by Dec. 31, 2001 or spend four days in jail.
“I opted for jail rather than pay the fine as a matter of principle,” Whatcott told The Interim.
Whatcott has never been one to back down when deeply held convictions are at stake but this particular case has an extra level of concern for him.
In the Nov. 22 court case held in Regina, Whatcott chose to defend himself in court on grounds that his right to free speech under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been violated. According to Whatcott, Justice Eaton declared that a “public university is private property for the purposes of the law” thereby exempting it from the Charter and the protection of free speech.
“I disagree that public universities are private I am hoping to appeal the conviction to the higher court. I am convinced that with proper legal counsel the case can be won on appeal. This is a far more serious issue than me spending four days in jail,” he said.
He said, “The University of Regina is particularly hostile to life, faith and family values,” citing the restrictions placed on pro-life Christians to reach students at publicly funded universities as an example.
Tom Schuck, a Weyburn Sask. pro-life lawyer, has agreed to assist Whatcott in preparing his appeal.
“I’m going to help Bill but not actually represent him in the courtroom,” Schuck told The Interim.
“I’ll be giving Bill information on cases that set precedents,” he explained. “It will be good for Bill if he can get an admission that the university doesn’t want to conduct itself in accordance with the Charter.”
In the meantime, Whatcott hopes to raise sufficient funds to assist him in the preparation and presentation of his appeal. “If I fail to raise it (the money), I may be in jail within a month,” Whatcott said.
In a related issue, Whatcott was successful in a bid to keep his nursing credentials. As reported in the October 2001 edition of The Interim, he faced charges of incompetency and unprofessional conduct. At issue were the permanent suspension of his licence and the loss of his job in the Regina Health District.
“The licensing commission abandoned the competency charges as grounds for revoking my licence and went instead with my criminal record,” he explained. “The judge declared my teenage convictions as too remote.”