BCCLA slams feds over ballot shredder prosecution

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The B.C. Civil Liberties Association today sharply criticized Elections Canada for its original decision to prosecute two UBC students who publicly shredded their ballots during the last federal election as a way of expressing their views on the election. The Association was responding to the recent decision to stay those charges.

“This prosecution of Jonathon Oppenheim and Victoria Scott should never have happened in the first place,” said BCCLA executive director, John Westwood. “These students were in no way trying to fraudulently alter the outcome of the election. They were simply exercising their legitimate right to freedom of expression.”

The BCCLA had publicly aired its concern over the prosecution last fall, and had called on the Commissioner of Canada Elections to drop the charges and offer the students an apology. The Commissioner refused.

Section 249 (1) (b) of the Canada Elections Act rightfully prohibits altering or destroying someone else’s ballot so that a vote which should not have counted did, or a vote which should have counted did not. However, what the students did was to shred their own unmarked ballot papers, acts which could not in the wildest stretch of the imagination be construed as trying to fraudulently alter the outcome of the election.

“This prosecution was a clear attack on the two student’s expression rights, and an abuse of the authority of Elections Canada,” Westwood stated.

“The students, and indeed all Canadians, deserve an explanation as to who ordered this prosecution, why it was undertaken in the first place, and why it wasn’t halted earlier. And then heads should roll.”