TORONTO: The Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) has achieved a major free speech victory in the challenge to the federal election censorship law. On February 19, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice released a decision striking down s. 91(1) of the Canada Elections Act as an unjustified infringement on free expression.
The law, which was amended in 2019, makes it an offense to attempt to influence an election by making or publishing certain types of false statements about political candidates and other public figures during the election period. The legislation does not require that the individual making the false statement be aware that it is false, capturing innocent statements.
“Today’s decision is a major victory for Canadian voters and for freedom of expression,” said CCF Executive Director, Joanna Baron. “The court struck down the provision of the Canada Election Act that prohibited publishing false statements because the government had removed the requirement to prove that the publisher knew the statements were false.”
The Act does not define ‘false statement’, but it is concerned with statements about criminal records and biographical information. The word “knowingly” was removed from s. 91(1) in the 2019 amendments. The law carries significant penalties, including a fine up to $50,000 and up to five years in prison.
“This legislation had the potential to fine and even imprison people for honest mistakes. This would create a chilling effect on the free exchange of political ideas and opinions, and the law acts as a form of unjustified censorship. We are thrilled that the law has been struck down. This result will improve the electoral process and also protects the fundamental right to freedom of expression,” concluded Baron.