Taking Action on BC Election gag laws

FIPA will be in court next week seeking to force the government to stop suppressing freedom of expression during provincial elections.

Our Charter challenge gets under way in BC Supreme Court in Victoria on Monday November 4, seeking to strike down the provisions that require everyone to register with Elections BC before undertaking ‘election advertising’ during a provincial election. The hearing is scheduled to run for two days before Justice Bruce Cohen.

The definition of election advertising contained in s.228 of the Act is extremely broad, and encompasses 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.

In our Notice of Civil Claim FIPA states that a law that forces people to register with a government agency before being able to freely engage in political expression is an interference with the right to free expression guaranteed by section 2(b) of the Charter.

In addition, where an individual’s or organization’s third party election advertising expenditures are less than $500, the registration scheme in the BC Election Act cannot be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

As a result, we are asking the BC Supreme Court to strike down those parts of the law.

This case is important not just for provincial elections and by elections, but also for future municipal elections. The government has proposed that similar third party advertising restrictions be imposed on local government elections, despite its own advisory committee suggesting exempting ‘advertising’ that costs less than a given amount.

We reminded the Minister that her third party spending provisions were of dubious constitutionality, and that she should hold off proceeding with them until after the court rules on the question. You can read our submission here.

We are looking forward to finally having this issue dealt with by the courts, since the BC government apparently has no intention of ever fixing this of its own accord.