Supreme Court decision a victory for freedom of expression

January 26, 2017

Supreme Court of Canada forces Elections BC to use proper interpretation of Third party advertising law

VANCOUVER, January 26, 2017 – In a decision released this morning, the Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that election advertising laws do not apply to those who are merely expressing their own views during an election, rather than engaging in actual advertising campaigns.

The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) brought the Charter challenge just before the last provincial election in 2013 after years of fruitless campaigning to get the government to amend the law to get rid of the offending provisions.

“Today’s decision means individuals and groups who are expressing themselves will no longer be considered to be ‘advertising sponsors,’” said FIPA Executive Director Vincent Gogolek. “People will be able to express themselves in the coming election without fear of jail or fines.”

Elections BC, charged with enforcing the law, interpreted the law as covering any activity that fell within the very broad definition of advertising, including handwritten signs and other types of expression that cost little or no money. The BC government insisted on defending the law, despite repeated reports by the Chief Electoral Officer stating that the provision was unnecessary, caused confusion and should be replaced with a requirement (used in other Canadian jurisdictions) that ‘advertisers’ spend at least $500 before they have to register.

FIPA argued that this absolute ban on unregistered expression is unconstitutional, as it applies to things like handwritten signs or other low cost communications. Studies have shown people and groups have avoided public comment in past elections, for fear of hefty fines and even jail time for inadvertently violating the law.

FIPA again thanks lawyers Sean Hern of Farris Vaughn and Alison Latimer of Underhill, Boies Parker, Gage & Latimer, who have represented FIPA pro bono in this case.



Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director

BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association | (o) 604-739-9788 | (c) 604-318-0031