BC Government Unhappy About Court's Constitutional Ruling
Freedom Of Expression vs. Political Will
BC Supreme Court Justice Frank Cole struck down what is known as Bill 42, or the gag law that prohibits pre-election advertising by third parties. With the May 12 provincial election only weeks away, labour unions were jubilant about the ruling, calling this a victory for free speech in British Columbia. Labour unions overwhelmingly support the New Democratic Party, the official opposition for the past two terms in British Columbia's de facto two-party system, and have filed a record number of lawsuits against the government since Gordon Campbell took office as premier eight years ago.
But BC's Attorney General Wally Oppal was not celebrating. A former BC Supreme Court judge that turned politician for the BC Liberal Party, Mr. Oppal has often been reported to be at odds with the Chief Justice over the administration of justice in the province. The BC Liberal Government is often irked by what they see as judges' interference with "political will". Article One of the Canadian Charter of Rights allows lawmakers to restrict any rights guaranteed under the Constitution if it's reasonably deemed to be in public interest.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed under Section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights, but only 1 in 4 of the 40 cases that reached the Supreme Court of Canada within the past 15 years succeeded in passing the scrutiny of the highest court. It is not known if the government will appeal the ruling, an act that may backfire on the Liberals at the polls.
Court strikes down B.C.'s gag law Unions jubilant as pre-election advertising ban is found unconstitutional By Jonathan Fowlie and Neal Hall, Vancouver SunMarch 28, 2009
Newspapers, television and websites across the province could soon be flooded with election advertisements after a B.C. Supreme Court judge struck down a portion of a law limiting third-party political advertising.
Justice Frank Cole told lawyers involved in the case Friday he will release a written ruling on Monday that will lift all restrictions from third-party advertisers from now until the writs of election are issued on April 14.
Between April 14 and election day May 12, third-party advertisers are expected still to be allowed to spend up to $150,000 each.
The so-called gag law "was found unconstitutional," said lawyer Joe Arvay, who challenged the law on behalf of a group of labour unions.
"We're very happy. It's a good day for democracy. Everybody should be happy," Arvay said.
The unions were jubilant.
"It's a victory for free speech," said B.C. Teachers' Federation president Irene Lanzinger. "We think this is a real victory for people who want to bring issues out before the election."
Bill 42, passed by the government last May and dubbed the "gag law" by its opponents, would have prevented all organizations other than political parties from advertising political messages between Feb. 13 and the May 12 provincial election.
In his written ruling Monday, Cole is expected to keep a limit of $150,000 on third-party advertising during the official campaign period.
Attorney-General Wally Oppal said Friday he was "very disappointed" by the decision.
"The intent of the law was to regulate uncontrolled third-party spending," Oppal said, adding he did not want to make specific comments about the decision until he sees the full ruling on Monday.
Oppal did suggest, however, the fight is not over.
"It's premature for anybody to be commenting on it, or to be even gloating about it," he said.
"This is one decision from one court. We'll see what happens next," he said. "I'd like to see what the judge says and then we'll move from there."
Oppal rebuffed the idea the law was an affront to free speech.
"None of our rights in the constitution, including free speech, are absolute," he said. "They're always subject to some regulations based on public policy."
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Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada