Carbon tax “notice” requirement is provincial government propaganda, plain…

Cara Zwibel
Director of Fundamental Freedoms Program





Forcing an opinion on someone, or putting words in their mouth, is a violation of their liberty, freedom of thought, association and expression.  When someone does it from a position of power, it is demeaning and an abuse of authority. When a government does it to their citizens, I’m grateful that we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that protects us against such a fundamental wrong.  

Among the changes the government of Ontario has incorporated into the budget is a new requirement that gas retailers display a notice about the impact of the federal carbon tax on gas prices. Touted as a transparency measure, the requirement is, in fact, a way of forcing private companies to peddle government propaganda. It is compelled speech and it goes against the fundamental protection provided for freedom of expression in our Constitution. We need to fight it.

The notice required by the province doesn’t simply break down the costs of gas and where different portions go. That, like the requirement to include ingredient lists and calorie counts on food packaging, might be acceptable. Instead, the notice is a part of the provincial government’s arsenal in the war on the federal carbon tax measure. That is a war the province may be entitled to wage – but they should not be able to conscript Ontarians into fighting it for them.

It does serious damage to our democracy when the government starts forcing people to spread political messages for them. This measure dictates not only the message but also the precise means by which it has to be delivered. While there is a strong argument that the notice misrepresents the true cost of the carbon tax (by failing to mention the available rebate), the question of accuracy is not even close to the most troubling aspect. Simply put, the notice is a commercial for the provincial government. In addition to a little bar graph/arrow graphic on price increases over the coming years, it invites people to visit the government’s website on the carbon tax to “learn more about taxes on gas”. But the website devotes little time to gas prices and much more to explain why Ontario has a “better way” of fighting climate change than the federal government.

The provincial government has managed to require private companies to advertise for them and, more specifically, advertise against the federal government of a different political stripe. Not only is this advertising free for the government – they can earn money for every retailer who fails to comply (retailers who fail to post the notice face fines of up to $10,000 per day). They have turned gas retailers into their PR firms and turned compelled speech into a revenue stream.

Regardless of the views that one has on the carbon tax issue, we should all worry when the government starts using the law to force private entities to the tow their line. CCLA will fight against this proposal and any other attempts by the state to conscript Canadians into spreading messages for them. Freedom of speech means freedom from unreasonable government restrictions on our speech, but it also means freedom from unreasonable government compulsion. The new carbon tax measure in Ontario has crossed the line.

Letter to Quebec Minister of Justice Regarding Child Pornography…

The Honourable Sonia Lebel
Ministère de la Justice
Édifice Louis-Philippe-Pigeon
1200, route de l’Église
9e étage
Québec (Quebec) G1V 4M1
April 12, 2019

Dear Minister,

I am writing on behalf of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) regarding your decision to prosecute author Yvan Godbout and editor Nycolas Doucet for production and distribution of child pornography.   This is a terrible exercise of your quasi-judicial powers.  There are self-evident constitutional bars to such censorship by Criminal Code, and this matter clearly does not meet the second branch of prosecutorial discretion:  it is not in the public interest.

The CCLA is a national, non-profit, public interest advocacy organization that has been at the forefront of promoting and protecting freedom of expression since our founding in 1964. CCLA made submissions when Parliament first introduced criminal offences relating to child pornography and has been involved in every significant Supreme Court of Canada case that interprets the child pornography provisions. We recognize the pressing need to protect children from exploitation and abuse. However, we have sought to ensure that criminal laws are not used to stifle expression, including artistic expression. This prosecution does just that.

It is our understanding that the prosecution of the author and publisher in this case stems from the description, on one page of a 270-page horror novel, of the sexual assault of a young child. Now that charges have been laid, you have managed no doubt to increase the books’ readership exponentially, even though your charge suggests those in possession of it have child pornography – and are liable under the criminal law – in the eyes of your office.

While the Criminal Code definition of “child pornography” does include written descriptions whose creation does not involve harming children, the provisions must be construed narrowly, as noted by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Sharpe, 2001 SCC 2. The material must either “advocate or counsel sexual activity with a person under the age of eighteen years” that would be an offence, or have as its “dominant characteristic” the description “for a sexual purpose, of sexual activity with a person under the age of eighteen years” that would be an offence. Provided our description above is accurate, it seems clear that the material is not intended to advocate for the sexual abuse of children. Moreover, the Court has held that the phrase “for a sexual purpose” should be understood to consider whether, reasonably perceived, the material is intended to cause sexual stimulation to some viewers. Our understanding is that this is a novel written in the horror genre, and that the relevant passage is only one page in close to three hundred. Given this context, it is straining the limits of reasonableness to suggest that the novel is “child pornography” as contemplated under the Code.

We also note that there are defences to the child pornography provisions which the Supreme Court has held must be liberally construed. In particular, the Code includes an artistic merit defence which the Supreme Court has confirmed should be interpreted broadly: “Any objectively established artistic value, however small, suffices to support the defence. Simply put, artists, so long as they are producing art, should not fear prosecution under s. 163.1(4).” (Sharpe, para 63)

This criminal prosecution is wrong-headed and we urge you to re-evaluate and revisit the decision in light of the foregoing, and otherwise withdraw the information.  While sexual violence and exploitation of children is a wrong, so is government censorship.  Artists always have and always will explore these subjects in their works. Prosecuting an author and editor for depicting such violence in a novel is contrary to the public interest, and sends a chill through literary and artistic communities. We petition you to reverse your decision and stop censoring literature through the Criminal Code.


Cara Faith Zwibel, LL.B., LL.M.
Director, Fundamental Freedoms Program

Letter to Quebec Min Justice – Child Pornography Prosecution

Madame l’honorable Sonia Lebel
Ministère de la Justice du Québec
Édifice Louis-Philippe-Pigeon
1200, route de l’Église
9e étage
Québec (Quebec) G1V 4M1


12 avril, 2019

Madame la ministre,

Je vous écris à la part de l’Association Canadienne des Libertés Civiles (ACLC) au sujet de votre décision d’instituer une procédure à l’encontre de l’auteur Yvan Godbout et de l’éditeur Nycolas Doucet, pour production et distribution de pornographie juvénile. Ceci est un exercice absolument horrible de vos pouvoirs quasi-juridiques. Il existe des interdictions constitutionnelles évidentes à l’encontre de cette censure dans le Code criminel et ceci ne tombe pas bien évidemment sous l’emprise de la  discrétion d’un procureur d’intérêt secondaire: il n’y a aucun intérêt public à ce faire.

Notre association, la ACLC, est un organisme national à but non-lucratif et d’intérêt public, qui a toujours mené à bien la promotion et la protection de la libre-expression, et ce depuis notre fondation en 1964. La ACLC a déposé maintes soumissions lors de l’introduction au parlement de lois relatant aux offenses criminelles sur la pornographie juvénile. Outre, nous nous sommes impliqués dans toutes affaires importantes de la cour suprême du Canada relatant aux provisions sur la pornographie et sur les abus d’enfants. Toutefois, nous avons toujours  cherché à assurer que les lois criminelles ne soient jamais utilisées à des fins d’étouffement de l’expression, y-compris de l’expression artistique. Votre poursuite ne semble viser qu’à cela.

Selon nous, toute poursuite judiciaire à l’encontre de l’auteur et de l’éditeur ci-concernés dépend à l’évidence même de la description d’une agression sexuelle sur un enfant de bas âge, figurant sur une page unique sur 270 d’un roman d’horreur. Depuis que ces accusations ont été portées, il semblerait donc que vous ayez promulgué malgré vous la lecture et l’achat de ce livre, même si vos accusations essaient d’impliquer une responsabilité criminelle quelconque de la part des usagers du livre aux yeux de votre office.

Bien que la définition de la “pornographie juvénile”, selon le Code criminel, n’inclue pas les descriptions qui ne nuisent pas à un enfant de part leur création, ces provisions doivent être interprétées de manière stricte, ainsi que décrété par la Cour suprême du Canada, dans R. c. Sharpe, 2001 SCC 2. Le matériel doit donc préconiser ou conseiller  une activité sexuelle spécifique avec une personne de moins de dix-huit ans, telle activité constituant une offense, ou qui aurait pour “caractéristique dominante, dans un but sexuel” une activité sexuelle avec une personne  âgée de moins de  dix-huit ans et qui constituerait donc une offense. Étant donné la précision ci-dessus, il semblerait acquis que la lecture du livre ne promulgue en aucune sorte un abus sexuel quelconque d’un enfant.

En outre, la Cour a jugé que la phrase “dans un but sexuel” doit être interprété comme étant voulu intentionnellement stimuler sexuellement certains lecteurs. Selon nous, le roman en question est écrit dans le genre du roman d’horreur; le passage en question ne constitue qu’une seule page sur presque trois cent. Sur ce, il n’est certainement donc pas raisonnable de suggérer que l’intégralité de ce roman constitue en fait une “pornographie infantile” quelconque à l’encontre du Code criminel.

Nous notons donc qu’il existe des défenses incontroversibles contres toutes provisions de pornographie infantile interprétées par la Cour suprême. En particulier, le Code permet une défense de mérite artistique, interprétée assez vastement: “Toute valeur artistique objectivement établie, si minime soit-elle, suffit à fonder le moyen de défense. Tant qu’il produit de l’art, l’artiste ne devrait tout simplement pas craindre d’être poursuivi en vertu du par. 163.1(4).” (Sharpe, para 63)

Toute prosécution dans ce sens serait mal dirigée. Nous vous prions fortement de ré-évaluer votre décision dans cette nouvelle lumière et de vous désister. Bien que la violence sexuelle et que toute exploitation d’enfant soit bien évidemment  à tort, toute censure gouvernementale l’est bien sûr de même. Les artistes ont toujours exploré et exploreront toujours ces sujets de part leur oeuvre. Emmener en justice un auteur ou éditeur pour avoir illustré telle ou telle violence dans le contexte d’une oeuvre romancière est de fait contraire à l’intérêt public, et ce envoie un frisson de part la communauté littéraires et artistique. Nous vous demandons donc de revenir sur votre décision et d’arrêter de censurer la littérature par le biais du Code Criminel.


Bien sincèrement à vous,
Cara Faith Zwibel, LL.B., LL.M.
Directrice, programme des libertés fondamentales, ACLC

Lettre Ministre de Justice Quebec – Pornographie Juvenile

Student Walkouts: You’ve Got the Power, We’ve Got Your…

Dear Chairperson of the School Board,

We are writing about the student walkout planned for Thursday, April 4, 2019, at public and Catholic schools in some Ontario districts. Our organization takes no position on the walkout’s purpose or the message conveyed. We do take a position on the students’ right to free speech and free assembly.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is an independent, national, nongovernmental organization that has been fighting for civil liberties and human rights since 1964. We have appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada over a hundred and fifty times on issues including freedom of expression, democratic rights and the rule of law.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust is almost as old as the CCLA. Our teachers have appeared at your schools, teaching about critical thinking and civil liberties, to thousands of students and many teachers too, over the years.

Principals have sent out messages to parents this week about the planned walkouts by students. The principals have cited “safety” as being a priority for your schools. Be that as it may, there is another priority that ought to prevail: critical thinking by students, democracy and our fundamental freedoms.

In the past, schools have managed these walkouts well, with some exceptions. We hope that your schools will not seek to censor Ontario students or otherwise punish or prevent them from expressing their dissent or support for the cause at hand. Your schools, after all, are places where democracy and freedom are taught and shaped for generations to come.

We would be happy to assist in your deliberations on this subject, as we continue to defend dissent, expression and liberty in its many forms.


Cara Zwibel, LL.B., LL.M.
Director, Fundamental Freedoms

A PDF of this letter can be found here.

CCLA at the Supreme Court: when can the police…

Teddy Weinstein
Articling Fellow



How far can police officers go when initiating a “protective” arrest? Can innocent protestors be arrested even when they’ve done nothing wrong? Can the police make an arrest to try to prevent a potential breach of the peace? These questions and more are what’s at stake in the Fleming v Ontario appeal, being heard today at the Supreme Court of Canada.

Randy Fleming was arrested on May 24, 2009 in Caledonia, Ontario by 7 Ontario Police Officers. He was alone and engaged in a peaceful political protest, when he was forced off of a public road and onto private property. His arrest was ostensibly made on the basis of a common law police power that does not appear in the Criminal Code or any other statute; to arrest a person in order to prevent an “apprehended breach of the peace.” A breach of the peace can be harm or threat of harm to a person or property. “Apprehended breach” simply means that the police officer only needs to be reasonably sure there that a breach of the peace may occur.

In this case, the police were concerned that Indigenous protesters occupying the land that Mr. Fleming walked onto might resort to violence. During this “protective” arrest, Fleming was permanently injured by the officers.

The “ancillary powers” doctrine, according to the Ontario Court of Appeal, made Mr. Fleming’s arrest legal, even though he was not currently committing or even suspected of committing a crime. Ancillary powers are new police powers that can be created by judges at common law, based on an old British case. While using ancillary powers can be justified (for example, the police investigating apparent domestic violence after a 911 call for assistance is abruptly disconnected) the use of the power should be subject to rigorous Charter analysis. Especially in cases like Mr. Fleming’s, where the power is used to suppress lawful free speech.

CCLA is troubled by granting ill-defined, common law police powers that allow the police to deprive people of their fundamental Charter rights to liberty, security of the person, and freedom from arbitrary detention. We are intervening to make sure that they are appropriately limited.

Ancillary common law powers of the police have been used to justify more than just preventative arrests. Warrantless searches, spontaneous road blocks and detention of pedestrians for the purpose of investigation, all fall within the ancillary powers doctrine. The power to arrest for apprehended breach of the peace requires special attention, as it is used against persons who have neither committed an offence nor threatened to do so. It is also resistant to review since, unlike an arrest where charges are laid, the circumstances that give rise to the detention almost never come before a court.

Mr. Fleming’s case is exceptional, then, as it provides a rare opportunity for the highest court in Canada to rule definitively on the limits of the power to arrest for apprehended breach of the peace. The immense societal cost to our freedom of expression that stems from this ill-defined, uncodified police power may finally be appropriately curtailed if the Court requires a rigorous Charter analysis.

CCLA has taken the position that the exercise of ancillary powers by police should be subject to a Charter analysis as proposed by Supreme Court Justices Binnie, LeBel and Fish in their concurring reasons in Clayton, decided in 2007. Without a more robust test in place, the ancillary powers have been used to justify a number of incidents of police misconduct, including during the G20.

CCLA will also ask the court to clarify that when an arrest for apprehended breach of the peace is made, the arrestee should be released immediately, as soon as the risk of the breach of the peace has passed. Prolonged detention simply cannot be justified in these circumstances.

CCLA’s intervention in Fleming is part of our ongoing work to fight for your rights to be free from overbearing police powers, and to protect the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly. We thank our counsel Sean Dewart, Adrienne Lei and Mathieu Belanger for representing us pro bono, and look forward to seeing how the Court addresses the important issues this case raises.

What the Vice Media Decision Might Mean for Press…

Cara Zwibel
Director of Fundamental Freedoms Program





The Supreme Court’s decision in R. v. Vice Media Canada Inc. is not the victory for press freedom that CCLA was hoping for. Indeed, for Vice Media and reporter Ben Makuch, the decision is a blow and requires a reporter to hand over his work product to the police. This outcome is disturbing, and I do fear the chill it could create. At the same time, I do not see the Vice decision as a total defeat for press freedom. I believe there are parts of the decision that could be used to push freedom of the press further in future cases – undoubtedly a good thing.

For many years, our courts have been instructed to balance police investigative needs against the importance of the role of the press and the media’s right to privacy in gathering and reporting on the news. Too often, the balance favours police at the expense of the press. The Court had an opportunity to shift this paradigm by taking a new approach to when and how police investigations can implicate the press. While it declined to change the law fundamentally, the Court’s decision does have some positive aspects and, if they trickle down to lower courts – admittedly, a big “if” – these could be used to shield the media from unreasonable police intrusions in the future.

For example, while the majority of the Court declined to require that the media be given notice in all cases where a production order is sought, it does acknowledge that unless some urgency or circumstances justify proceeding without the media present, it may be desirable to give notice. A modification to the standard that a reviewing court will use when scrutinising a challenged production order bolsters this language. The Court allows for a de novo review (that’s lawyer speak for a wholesale reconsideration) if the media was not given notice and can establish that the court that granted the order was missing information that might have made a difference.

The silver lining in the case is Justice Abella’s concurrence, signed on to by three other members of the Court. Justice Abella explicitly acknowledges that freedom of the press is not merely a corollary of freedom of expression, but has distinct and independent protection in the Charter. The majority did not agree to go that far, but their reasons suggest that is because it was not necessary to do so, not because there is necessarily disagreement on this point.

While last Friday’s decision is disappointing, it involves a case that unfolded before Parliament passed the Journalistic Sources Protection Act. That legislation strengthens protection for the press and should help shift the balance further as cases that interpret it come before the courts. CCLA will continue to advocate for strong protections for the press, to protect both the important work that journalists do and Canadians’ right to know.