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PRESS RELEASE: Civil liberties watchdog launches survey on federal election law “chill factor”

 

For immediate release

Climate change, immigration, tax policy, and pharmacare believed to be among affected issues

VANCOUVER – xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skxwú7mesh (Squamish) & səlil̓wətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Territories (October 23, 2019) — The BC Civil Liberties Association wants to hear from organizations across Canada about how current federal elections law affected their freedom of expression during the recent federal election.

Citing concerns about the complexity of the law, confusion over Elections Canada information, and the administrative burden of reporting as a third party, the civil liberties watchdog has launched a survey for organizations regarding freedom of expression during this 43rd general election. The survey is available at www.bccla.org/election-chill.

“We’ve heard from groups mired in conflicting legal opinions and daunted by the administrative burden of third party advertiser reporting rules,” says Acting Executive Director Maggie Knight. “We’re concerned about a chill on organizations with relevant expertise and who represent people deeply affected by this election’s key issues. We think the debate suffers when these organizations self-censor out of fear.”

The impact may be particularly severe on small civil society organizations with few staff who lack resources to seek legal advice. Smaller organizations – particularly those whose mandates concern contentious issues in this election – may have been afraid to speak up due to a lack of capacity to respond to potential complaints to Elections Canada.

The current complaints process means that Elections Canada may refuse to provide advice to organizations in advance, saying that the law has to be interpreted in the context of complaints which may arise.

“Whether the issue is climate change, immigration, tax policy, or pharmacare, we’re concerned that important voices have been silenced in this election. We’ve heard from organizations who wanted to speak up on issues that are important to voters across the country, but who were afraid they may accidentally violate the law,” says Knight.

“We’re asking organizations to tell us how their speech has been affected during this election, so that we can ground our advocacy and next steps in the reality of how the law is playing out on the ground.”

The survey will remain open until a month after the federal election, and is available here.

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Media contact:

English: Maggie Knight, Acting Executive Director – 604-595-8925, [email protected]

French: Jessica Magonet, Staff Counsel (Litigation) – 604-359-2415, [email protected]