TORONTO, ON: The Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) is denouncing a recent report that Elections Ontario has found that some February advertisements opposing the Ontario teachers strikes appear to have violated the Ontario Elections Finance Act.
“Putting aside that portions of the Ontario Election Finances Act should be struck down as unconstitutional, this decision is an absurd application of the law.” said CCF Litigation Director, Christine Van Geyn.
The ads were published by an organization called ‘Vaughan Working Families’, which has been linked to a Vaughan based lawyer. The ads ran in the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, and the Toronto Sun. Although there was no general election underway, the ads ran in national and Toronto based print newspapers while two Ottawa by-elections were underway. Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer has reported the ads to the Attorney General because the organization had not registered as a third party.
“One of the problems with this legislation is arbitrary enforcement and subjective criteria for what constitutes a political ad. Some bureaucrat at Elections Ontario decides that an anti-strike ad run by a politically minded individual in the GTA was really about an Ottawa by-election. This will have a chilling effect on Charter protected speech. Will community groups in Sarnia be afraid to talk about their issues because there is a by-election in Kenora?”
Under the Act a third party must register if they spent more than $500 on advertising. The definition of ‘political advertising’ includes considerations like whether the branding of the ad is similar to that of a political party, whether it makes reference to an election or voting day, and whether it is reasonable to conclude the ad was timed to coincide with an election. The Act also asks whether the ad takes a position on an issue that can reasonably be regarded as closely associated with a registered party or its leader.
“This decision by Elections Ontario shows the problem with this type of censorship legislation. Big-headed bureaucrats are making subjective rulings on what constitutes political speech and enforcing the law arbitrarily. CCF is now looking into a Charter challenge of this law,” concluded Van Geyn.
The original release can be viewed here.
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