FIPA is celebrating a step forward in our battle for free expression during elections in British Columbia. On Monday, the Supreme Court of Canada granted FIPA leave to appeal the BC Court of Appeal’s split decision to uphold third-party ‘advertising’ restrictions in the provincial Election Act.
We expect that our appeal will be heard in 2016, and we hope for a ruling before the next BC provincial election in May 2017.
BC is the only province in Canada that requires a person or group to register with authorities in order to discuss election issues – even if they spend little or no money. FIPA argued that this absolute ban on unregistered expression is unconstitutional, as it applies to things like handwritten signs or electronic communications with a value of zero. Studies have shown people and groups avoid public comment, for fear of hefty fines and even jail time for inadvertently violating the law.
However, in a 2-1 decision earlier this year, the BC Court of Appeal upheld a lower court decision, and found that although the Election Act provisions violate the Charter right to freedom of expression, the violation is “justifiable”.
Monday’s decision—the result of a rare oral hearing of the application for leave to appeal—allows FIPA to continue the challenge in Canada’s highest court.
We are very glad the Supreme Court is interested in hearing our appeal. This is an important case for freedom of speech during BC elections – and for setting the standard the government must meet in order to impose these kinds of restrictions on citizens.
We thank lawyers Sean Hern and Alison Latimer of Farris Vaughan, who continue to represent FIPA pro bono in this case.
Update: The webcast of the hearing is now available on Supreme Court of Canada website here.