B.C. Government’s hard line on Election Act gag forces constitutional challenge

The B.C. Government’s stubborn refusal to fix our province’s unconstitutional Election Act has forced a Charter challenge by the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA).

The definition of election advertising contained in s.228 of the Act is extremely broad, and captures any communication with the public that “…promotes or opposes, directly or indirectly, a registered political party or the election of a candidate, including an advertising message that takes a position on an issue with which a registered political party or candidate is associated.” Under this definition, third parties (both individuals and organizations) must register with Elections BC before doing any so-called advertising, even if what they’re doing doesn’t cost a cent. This could be something as simple as putting a handwritten sign in your window. Failure to register could result in a year in jail and a $10,000 fine.

The government claims that the law is designed to keep big spenders from influencing the election, but has no answer when asked how requiring registration by someone who is spending no money whatsoever helps achieve that goal.

“The government has known for years that this law is unconstitutional, but has consistently refused to do anything about it,” said Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director of FIPA. “We have been telling them for years, and the Chief Electoral Officer pointed out the problem in his 2010 report. The B.C. Court of Appeal told them so last year. When our legal counsel asked them how they could justify it they said it was valid law and to take them to court if we don’t agree. So we have.”

And incredibly, though the provincial government has refused to fix this serious constitutional issue with an election less than three months away, Attorney General Shirley Bond has promised a new Senate election law and the government has given Elections BC $1 million dollars to set it up.

“If the government has the legislative time to deal with a theoretical Senate election, they should have the legislative time to fix a major Charter breach before the upcoming provincial election,” Gogolek said. “The Attorney General should act before the courts order them to do it.”

FIPA’s Notice of Civil Claim can be found through our website.