‘Small voices’ could still be silenced by B.C. election rules

January 26, 2017

Supreme Court  ruling clarifies ‘self-expression’


TORONTO, Ont.  ̶  The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is pleased the Supreme Court of Canada has clarified that wearing t-shirts or displaying a bumper sticker does not equate to advertising during elections. However, today’s decision in B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association v British Columbia (Attorney General) could still put a chill on expression from “small voices.”

British Columbia’s Election Act requires anyone engaged in election advertising to provide their full name and full address to an on-line public register regardless of how trivial a sum of money is spent on the advertising. Federal legislation exempts registration for spending below $500.

The court held registration is required only by “sponsors,” one who pays for an advertising service or receives that service without charge.

At issue in this case was whether a B.C. provision compelling public registration on election issues violated the right to freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

While it is not the outcome the CCLA had hoped for, the decision does provide some clarity and security for those who want to engage in individual self-expression during an election campaign by explicitly excluding them from the registration requirement.

“We are pleased with the court’s clarification that electoral advertising should not be taken to extend to self-expression, such as t-shirts and bumper stickers.  However, we are still concerned by the lack of an exemption for individuals or groups who participate in an election advertising campaign that involves trivial sums of money,” says CCLA Staff Lawyer Rob De Luca.

That could include, for example, a situation where one person makes a number of signs or hats to distribute, since the recipient of those “advertisements” would then fall within the court’s definition of “sponsor.”

“The purpose of spending limits is to ensure that money does not control political discussion during an election. The registration requirement, and the lack of clarity surrounding the requirement, will still have the unfortunate effect of chilling freedom of expression of small spenders at the margins,” says De Luca.

The CCLA was represented by Gillian Hnatiw and Zohan Levy of Lerners LLP.

CCLA lawyers are available for comment today. To set up interviews please contact:

Rob De Luca, Staff Lawyer

416-363-0321 ext 229