Fundamental Freedoms

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.

Freedom of Expression

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

Court Cases

A Win for Online Privacy Rights at the Supreme…

CCLA’s voice was heard and recognized in the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) decision released today, Douez v Facebook, Inc. The case addressed whether a Vancouver woman, Deborah Douez, should be able to pursue a claim against the social media giant under Canadian law, in Canada.

CCLA argued, and the Court agreed, that one reason we need to make sure that privacy and other rights are protected in these kinds of contracts is that social media use is becoming an essential part of participation in public life:

As the intervener the Canadian Civil Liberties Association emphasizes, “access to Facebook and social media platforms, including the online communities they make possible, has become increasingly important for the exercise of free speech, freedom of association and for full participation in democracy.” (para 56)

Most of the important principles CCLA argued for found traction with the Court, which generally agreed that “take it or leave it” consumer contracts are different than other kinds of commercial contracts because they raise questions of meaningful consent, and that it is in the public interest to protect rights such as privacy when evaluating where disputes about this kind of contract should be heard.

Recent statistics reveal that in March 2017 there were more than 1.94 billion active users on Facebook, with five new users joining every second.[1] More than 18 million of these are Canadian, 1.8 million in BC alone.[2]   CCLA believes that all of these people, who use Facebook as an important part of their social lives, and who share their photos, sexual preferences, location, religious affiliation, political views and all kinds of personal information, should have an option to bring forward a case in Canada, under Canadian law, if they experience privacy violations.

Ms. Douez tried to initiate legal actions against Facebook in British Columbia, for using her name and picture in “sponsored stories” advertisements without express consent. Facebook argued that she could not bring forward her case in BC because when she created her account, she agreed to their terms of service. Those terms of service include a forum selection clause, specifying that users must resolve any claims against the company in a US court located in California.

This case revolved around a very complex body of law relating to forum selection. The existing common law test to determine whether a Canadian court should override a forum selection clause was established by the Supreme Court in the Pompey case.[3]

The Pompey test was designed for commercial contracts, where two equal parties negotiate an exchange of goods and decide together where conflicts should be resolved. The built-in presumption in the test is that forum selection clauses should mostly be upheld, because they are part of the bargain agreed to by both parties.

This case is the first time the SCC has been asked to consider how the Pompey test applies to a “take it or leave it” consumer contract, known more formally as ‘contracts of adhesion’. CCLA argued that the test needs an important update if it is to be used to decide in which jurisdiction individuals may pursue privacy violations. When individual users open accounts with big companies like Facebook or Google, those individuals have no power to bargain a contract that is fair to both parties. Contracts for social media accounts are all or nothing documents: users must give consent for whatever the company asks, or they cannot create an account. We argued that when important rights such as privacy are at risk, Canadians should not automatically have to give up their rights to seek recourse in a Canadian court in order to open a Facebook account.

CCLA is pleased that the SCC agreed, stating that “Canadian courts have a greater interest in adjudicating cases impinging on constitutional and quasi-constitutional rights”, such as privacy rights.

An improved ability to bring forward privacy complaints against large social media companies in Canada and have them heard under Canadian law is an important victory.

CCLA would like to thank Cynthia B. Kuehl and Meredith E. Jones of Lerners LLP for all of their work on this case.

Read CCLA’s factum here.




[3] ZI Pompey Industrie v ECU-Line NV, 2003 SCC 27 (available on CanLII) [Pompey].




Hamilton approves cutting-edge trans rights protocol

In an overflowing hearing room on March 6, a committee of the Hamilton, Ont. city council considered a protocol to protect the rights of transgender and gender-non-conforming people. The is the outcome of a human rights complaint filed by a trans woman who was barred from a woman’s washroom by a security guard at a Hamilton bus terminal.

The audit, finance, and administration committee unanimously approved the new protocol Monday. The protocol mandates how the city will treat residents who are transgender and gender non-conforming. That includes:

  • rules saying they can use the public restrooms and change rooms based on self-identified gender
  • providing unisex, single stall washrooms and changerooms when possible
  • recognizing that disclosure of someone’s gender identity or transition without their consent or knowledge is a form of harassment and discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
  • providing for new employee training and a commitment to respect gender identity by addressing workers and clients by preferred pronouns.

Read the full Protocol for Gender Identity and Gender Expression; Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Persons

CCLA calls on all municipalities and decision-makers to take proactive measures to publicly address and protect individuals on the basis of gender identity and expression, rather than wait for another of Canada’s most vulnerable and marginalized people to be harmed either physically or otherwise.

These individuals shouldn’t have to take on the burden of forcing governments to do what’s right and protect their rights.

CCLA addressed the committee to express our support for the protocol and explain its importance for the protection of individuals’ fundamental rights including the right to equality, human dignity, expression, and to live freely and safely in public spaces.

CCLA had spoken earlier with Hamilton councillor Aidan Johnson about the protocol, and offered recommendations for its improvement. In particular, we recommended strengthening and clarifying its privacy protections and referring to the fundamental protections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

While equality and other rights protections already exist in the Charter and Ontario’s Human Rights Code, a protocol focused specifically on the rights of trans and gender-non-conforming  individuals will hopefully better educate, serve, and protect Hamilton’s gender diverse community, which we would estimate at more than 3,000 people.

A few speakers at the committee hearing raised concerns about the safety and potential feelings of discomfort of cis girls and women in washrooms and changerooms.

CCLA addressed these concerns in its remarks to the committee explaining that security of the person, violence, and sexual violence are important subjects for CCLA as an organization working to protect and promote fundamental rights and freedoms for all people in Canada, marginalized people of all kinds, including women and girls (cis or trans).

In the result, we conducted rigourous research, and found that despite the many speculations and expressions of worry and concern about violence by trans women or cis men posing as trans women and policies like this one, there is no evidence of actual danger, even where municipalities and police forces have gone looking for it.

Contrast that with the tremendous and actual violence experienced by trans people – including in washrooms and changerooms.

The “TransPulse” study by Greta Bauer and Ayden Scheim found:

  • 20% of trans Ontarians have been targets of physical or sexual assaults because they are trans.
  • 34% of trans Ontarians have experienced verbal harassment or threats because they are trans.

A survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in schools by Catherine Taylor found that:

  • 49% of trans students had been sexually harassed in school within the previous year.
  • 37% of trans students have been physically harassed or assaulted because of their gender expression.
  • The two school spaces most commonly experienced as unsafe by LGBT youth are changerooms and washrooms.

UPDATE: MARCH 9, 2017: Hamilton city council unanimously passed the Protocol for Gender Identity and Gender Expression; Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Persons on March 8.

CCLA will continue to urge all municipalities across Canada to adopt similar measures.

Noa Mendleson Aviv, the CCLA’s Director, Equality Program gives the deputation in Hamilton on March 6, 2017