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Bill Whatcott's appearance on campus is interrupted by a protester. Photo by Eric Westhaver, INK Online.

Bill Whatcott’s views are – to put it lightly – controversial.

 

His views on abortion and LGBTQ rights are far beyond the mainstream. Some might even say they go beyond the pale. He’s fought the law. He’s been fined by the provincial government, gone to Canada’s Supreme Court several times, and was arrested during a demonstration at the University of Regina last year.

 

On Jan. 12, he came back to campus.

 

Whatcott returned after a legal battle stemming from his arrest last April. Whatcott and a partner, American-born Peter Labarbera, were arrested for criminal mischief after a protest, which saw them butt heads with counter-protesters and campus police. Whatcott himself summed up his reasons for appearing, saying, “It’s about exercising the right for Christians and social conservatives to freely express their opinions on publicly-funded campuses.”

 

Whatcott brought a display and paraphernalia with him, including pamphlets from “ex-gay” activists and his now-notorious “gospel condoms,” anti-gay messages packaged in prophylactic-like plastic. The large pictures of aborted fetuses that were prominent in his appearance last April stayed home. Whatcott also referenced what he calls “homofascism,” defining it as, “silencing any speech critical of homosexuality.”

 

Reception to Whatcott’s visit was frosty at best. A Facebook group created by local activists, called “Block Whatcott”, has more than 200 members. By contrast, only one or two students passing Whatcott’s display voiced their support.

Counter-protesters walk over to Whatcott's display.Counter-protesters walk over to Whatcott's display. Photo by Eric Westhaver, INK Online.

“We just want to demonstrate to students that might be affected by his message that there is support on campus, and not everyone stands with what he has to say,” one of the group’s founders, Deidre Brandt, said. A member of the group, Sonia Stanger, added, “There needs to be a differentiation in between freedom of speech and preaching hate.”

 

Whatcott reacted to the group by labelling its members as “sodomites, anarchists, (and) transvestites” on his website, adding “If you can go onto this group's Facebook page and see their member's profiles you will quickly discern these souls are lost and ‘unchurched.’”

 

At the protests, the mood between Whatcott and the protesters was surprisingly civil. No violence was reported, police weren’t called, and there was minimal shouting and yelling. Protesters brought signs that were often humourous in nature, with sayings like, “Bill Whatcott’s Hair is a Sin” and “Wookies Love Everyone.” At one point, Whatcott even took out his phone and took a picture of the protesters. Whatcott added later, “Kudos to the UofR and kudos to 99 per cent of the students for being polite, and either ignoring me or even being receptive. You have the right to do both.”

 

“We’re not here to have a fight. We’re not here to get in a scrap,” said UR Pride vice-chair Lisa Phillipson. “We’re not here to butt heads about anything, it’s going to be a peaceful protest.”

 

Free speech was one of the days’ hot topics, and each side had their own interpretations. The demonstrators’ point of view was summed up by Stanger, who said, “Just because freedom of speech applies doesn’t mean that the university has to give him a platform for that speech, especially if it’s hate speech.” Stanger added, “I think it’s disappointing, but I don’t think it has the same effect he thinks it does. I don’t think he’s convincing anyone.

 

Whatcott himself shared surprisingly similar views, saying that a display with foul language, pornography, or racial hatred should be restricted. However, Whatcott added, “Opinions and moral views, even you don’t agree with them, you should tolerate them, and the U of R did that.”

 

Whatcott considered the day a success, saying “They obviously have their views and one display of mine probably won’t change most of them, but if they allow the display, and if the same rules apply to me as to them, then I can’t complain."