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Queen's University

The Warren Case (1983)

What objective test is used to assess discriminatory representations?


In 1984, a complaint was filed against the Winnipeg Sun for publishing, in contravention of (s) 2(1) (a) (b) of the Manitoba Human Rights Act, two articles which indicate discrimination or the intention to discriminate against Native people. The journalist, Peter compared Native people to a "midget in a whorehouse" and to "a drunk, a wastrel, an idle monger, a person who is only too happy to live on a government cheque, an in-breeder, a parasite, a non-contributor...". Instead of determining whether or not these statements indicated discrimination or the intention to discriminate, three adjudicators, the Manitoba Board of Adjudication, the Queen's Bench, and the Court of Appeal, all concentrated their deliberations on a preliminary technical question; whether or not newspaper articles were covered under (s) 2(1) (a)(b). This statute prohibits the publication of any discriminatory or hate inspiring "notice, sign, emblem or other representation". Newspaper articles were not notices, signs, symbols or emblems; but could they be considered to be "other representations"? (Link later et al v Winnipeg Sun et al. (1984), 5 C.H.R.R. D/2098; revd (1983), 11 D.L.R. (4th) 474; 5 C.H.R.R.D/2226, sub nom Re. Warren and Chapman.


Is a newspaper article considered to be a "representation" under (s) 2(1) (a) (b) of the Manitoba Human Rights Act.




All three bodies decided that articles were not other representations. They used two tests: a grammatical rule (Ejusdem Generis) and a rhetorical principle (Noscitur a sociis). Nosicut a socciis (literally, "It is known from its associates") indicates that the meaning of a word can be determined by the words that accompany it; other representation can be determined by the words "notice, sign, symbol or emblem". Ejusdem Generis (literally, Of the same class) indicates that in a list composed of particular terms which ends with a general term, the general term should be understood as being from the same class of words as the particular terms; "other representation" has to be in the same class of words as "notice, sign, symbol, emblem"; "short forms of communication, either pictorial or literary" (D/2098 (Man. Bd. Adj.) or "an image, likeness or reproduction in some manner of a thing; the action or fact of exhibiting or symbolizing in some visible image or form" (Man Qn's Ben) or "..." Court of Appeal. As newspaper articles are long, not short, forms of communication; discourses and not images, all three bodies concluded that newspaper articles were not covered by s.2 (1)(a)(b).


Although newspaper articles do not fit into the category of signs and symbols and therefore can not be prohibited under the signs and symbols statute, they nonetheless do not have the right to discriminate. In Hellquist (2001), a Saskatchewan board of inquiry found that a newspaper had discriminated against gay men when it printed an advertisement for homophobic bumper stickers featuring quotes from the Bible.  In Kane (2002), an Albertan Human Rights Panel ruled that a business magazine had discriminated against members of a religious group when it printed an article about a failed business deal which contained anti-Semitic jargon.


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