In a ruling by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the federal election censorship law was struck down this week. The ruling was a significant win for freedom of expression as the law would have resulted in a chilling effect on political discussions about election candidates.
We obtained a copy of the ruling for you here.
In 2019, Canada amended its Elections Act to criminalize attempts to influence elections through the publishing of specific types of “falsehoods” against election candidates. The amendment stated that a person could be prosecuted for a false statement even if they were not aware that the statement was false, meaning an innocent statement could result in unjustified punishment.
Critics of the law noted that the amendment did away with the term “knowingly.” Additionally, they were concerned that the term “false statement,” in the amendment, was vaguely defined. However, the definition did mention that biographical information and criminal records.
The law carried crazy punishments; a five-year sentence and a maximum fine of $50,000.
The amendment was challenged in court by the Canadian Constitutional Foundation (CCF), a non-partisan constitutional freedoms and right advocacy organization.
“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.”
“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,” Baron added.