Free expression risked with B.C. election rules: court appeal

By David P. Ball, 24 hours Vancouver



The province is at risk of “suppressing freedom of expression” with its election laws, warns the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

On Thursday, it launched an appeal after an April 16 B.C. Supreme Court decision upholding the province's election rules, which FIPA says require all advocates — even those using leaflets or spending nothing — to register with the government as a “third party.”

“Even if you're putting a handwritten sign on the front of your shopping cart of worldly possessions saying, 'Vote to end poverty and homelessness,' you'd have to be registered,” FIPA's executive director Vincent Gogolek told 24 hours. “We don't think there should be a requirement to register with the government before exercising your right to freedom of expression before an election.”

Justice Bruce Cohen agreed with the attorney general that “the registration requirement in no way restricts the content or extent of election advertising, but rather promotes transparency and accountability in electoral discourse by informing the electorate of the source of the speech.”

Gogolek said he doesn't take issue with election spending rules, such as caps on donations or party advertising. But unlike B.C., most other provinces only require an organization to register if they're spending over $500, he said.

“The general rationalization is that we need spending limits to keep big spenders from buying elections,” he said. “The problem is that registering people who are spending no money really doesn't seem to aid much in terms of transparency of anything.”

B.C. Attorney General Suzanne Anton was unavailable for comment by press time.







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