BC’s election gag law being challenged in Supreme Court of Canada

Ottawa, ON – Tomorrow, October 11, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear oral arguments in BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association v. Attorney General of British Columbia. At issue in the case is the BC government’s restriction of political expression during provincial election campaigns. The BCCLA is an intervener in the case and will be making oral arguments to the Court.

The BC Election Act requires anyone (with limited exceptions) wishing to communicate publicly about a political issue during an election campaign to register their name, telephone number and address with the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO). This information becomes a matter of public record and is available indefinitely to all. The registration requirement applies to all “election advertising” regardless of whether the person communicating the message spent any money to create or disseminate it. Things like bumper stickers, sandwich boards, pamphlets and window signs expressing views on environmental or economic issues, for example, would all be caught by the registration requirement. A person who fails to register with the CEO before displaying these forms of political expression is liable to a fine of not more than $10,000 or a year in prison, or both.

British Columbia is the only province that does not set a minimum amount that must be spent on election advertising before a person is required to register with election authorities. The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (BC FIPA) sought a declaration from the court that, to the extent it applies to expenditures of less than $500, the registration requirement unjustifiably infringes freedom of expression rights protected by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The BCCLA is intervening in the case to argue that the registration requirement silences the voices of people already marginalized within the political arena: those with little money, little political power, and views that challenge the status quo. One of the most basic means of personal political expression is the display of a poster or sign. Those most likely to use these modest means of communication to express their political views are also the most likely to be deterred by the registration requirement, which forces them to declare their political activities to the government. This privacy-limiting requirement serves to stifle the political expression of those on the margins of society: people of modest means seeking to advance contentious, unpopular or under-represented views. Moreover, there is no compelling government objective for the registration requirement that would justify its significant negative impacts on freedom of expression.

The BCCLA is represented by Sheila Tucker of Shapray Cramer Fitterman Lamer LLP and Joanne Lysyk of Blakes, Cassells and Graydon LLP.

Our argument is available here.

  • What: Supreme Court of Canada will hear oral arguments in the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association v. Attorney General of British Columbia case.
  • When: Oral arguments before the court begin on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at 6:00 am PT/ 9:00 am ET.
  • Where: Supreme Court of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario)
  • Who:  BCCLA representatives available for comment