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Queen's University
 

The Tremaine Case (2007)

Can a university terminate an instructor for posting hate messages?

Facts:        

Terry Tremaine was a part-time lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Saskatchewan. He was also a full-time member of a white supremacist cyber organization (Stormfront.org), where he posted almost 2000 messages under the pseudonym "mathdoktor99".  In October 2004, Richard Warman, who had been monitoring the site, filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against Tremaine, aka mathdokter99, alleging that he had been communicating hate messages contrary to Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. On April 8, 2005, he was served with a complaint from the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Three days later, the complainant, Robert Warman, wrote the University of Saskatchewan with information about the instructor's offensive cyber activities. On April 30, the University wrote the complainant informing Terry Tremaine that following an internal university investigation, he had been terminated. At the Tribunal Hearing, in 2007, Tremaine was found responsible for engaging in the discriminatory practice of communicating  messages on the internet that "were likely to expose persons of the Jewish Faith, Blacks and other non-white minorities to hatred or contempt". He was issued a cease and desist order, ordered to pay a penalty of $4000.

Issues

  1. Yes
  2. Yes
  3. Yes

Rulings

  1. Did Mr. Tremaine communicate, or cause to be communicated, repeatedly, the messages found on the various websites in issue?
  2. Were the messages communicated by means of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of parliament?
  3. Is the subject matter of the messages likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt b y reason of the fact that they are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination?

Reasoning:

  1. The Respondent does not deny that he communicated the material which is the subject of this complaint [...] He also admitted that all of the material was authored and signed either under his real name or under his pseudonym, "matjdoktor99". [...] the material was posted on the internet which is designed to facilitate repeated transmission of material posted on a chosen site. The Internet provided an inexpensive means of mass distribution. One of the purposes sought by posting messages on a website is that it will be available for transmission and display by a user who requests it. This characteristic of the Internet satisfies the requirement of "repeatedly" found in section 13 (1). The respondent did not need to call attention to his postings, the mere fact of putting them on the Internet which is accessible to almost everyone was sufficient to attain this objective.(29-30 of 41) 
  2. The Canadian Human Rights Act, as it was originally enacted, did not explicitly deal with Internet communications. As part of the changes to Canadian law effected by the proclamation of the Anti-Terrorism Act, S.C. c.41, section 88, on December 24, 2001, the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to add subsection 13 (2), which deals expressly with matters communicated by means of the Internet.  Since all the messages which form the basis of this complaint were posted after the enactment of section 13 (2), there is no issue that they were communicated in whole or in part by means of a telecommunication undertaking under the legislative authority of Parliament. (page 30 of 41)
  3. "Having looked at these messages in context, I have no doubt that they are likely to expose persons of the Jewish faith, Blacks and other non-white minorities to hatred or contempt. The underlying theme in the Respondent's messages is that Jews, Blacks and other non-whites are destroying the country and that they should either be deported or segregated. They also refer to the threat they represent for white civilization. Members of the targeted groups are described as vermin, a disease, parasites, criminals, scoundrels, embezzlers and liars. The are portrayed as dangerous and, in some case, intellectually inferior. These messages convey extreme ill-will to the point of violence towards the target groups. Nothing in these messages allows for any redeeming qualities for members of these groups. The members of the groups have been completely dehumanized. Consequently they may likely be the object of hatred and contempt." (page 34 of 41) 

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000