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Queen's University
 

The Canadian Liberty Net Case (1998)

Can the Federal Court issue cease and desist injunctions pending a Tribunal decision? 

Facts:        

In December 1991, five complaints against the Canadian Liberty Net were filed with the Canadian Human Rights Commission concerning its hateful telephone messages about Holocaust denial/revision, Jewish conspiracy, hate propaganda against immigrants, and outrage against the persecution of white supremacists.

The Tribunal heard evidence in the summer of 1992 but did not announce its ruling (against the respondent) until  September 1993. In the meantime, the commission requested, and was awarded, a federal court injunction that prohibited the CLN from communicating hate messages over the telephone. This injunction was issued in March 1992 and was in effect about 18 months until September 1993. (Canada (Human Rights Comm.) v. Canadian Liberty Net (No. 1) (1992), 26 C.H.R.R. D/194 (F.C.T.D)

In June 1992, an human rights investigator phoned the Canadian Liberty Net number and was greeted with a message relaying callers to another phone number listed with an American telephone company. Many of the messages available at the American number were in violation of the federal cease and desist injunction. In 1992, The Federal Court found the Liberty Net in contempt of court.

In 1996, a Federal Court of Appeal found that the cease and desist injunction was invalid because the federal court had no jurisdiction to grant it (Canadian Liberty Net (No. 2) (1996), 26) C.H.R.R. D/242 (F.C.A.) However, it ruled that "injunctions, as well as any other orders must be complied with until reversed or stayed, even if they are not valid"  It therefore found that the CLN had breached the injunction and was guilty of contempt of court.   Canada (Human Rights Comm.) v. Canadian Liberty Net (No. 3) (1996), 26 C.H.R.R. D/260 (F.C.A.)

The Supreme Court of Canada, rejected the Federal Court of Appeal's first decision about the jurisdiction of the Federal Court to make an injunction on behalf of the Commission pending a tribunal hearing. The majority ruled that "The Federal Court has jurisdiction to issue an injunction in support of the prohibitions contained in the Canadian Human Rights Act.  Under s. 44 of the Federal Court Act, the court may grant an injunction "[i]n addition to any other relief" even in the event that the substance of the dispute falls to be determined by another decision-maker."  It agreed, however, with its second decision; like the court of appeal, the majority found the the CLN had knowingly violated the injunction order and were properly found to be in contempt of court.   Canada (Human Rights Comm.) v. Canadian Liberty Net (1998), 31 C.H.R.R.  D/433 (S.C.C.) [Eng/Fr.34pp.)

Issues

  1. Did Federal Court have jurisdiction to issue the cease and desist injunction?
  2. Was it appropriate to issue the cease and desist injunction in this case?
  3. Can the defendants be held in contempt of court for breach of the cease and desist injunction?

Rulings

  1. Yes
  2. N/A
  3. Yes

Reasoning:

  1. The majority found that s. 44 of the Federal Court Act provides a source of jurisdiction to grant injunctions in human rights cases.
  2. The Court found that the Human Rights Tribunal already ruled on the merits of the case, and declined to rule on the issue of appropriateness.
  3. The Court found that the Tony McLeer and the Canadian Liberty Net knowingly violated a federal cease and desist order and were therefore properly found to be in contempt of court.
     

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000