Thursday, March 15, 2007

Blackout Ruling a Disgrace

When the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Thursday to uphold the election blackout law (by a 5-4 margin) it took a stand that was both dangerous and ridiculous.

Dangerous because the Court (a body which exists to protect our freedoms) essentially ruled in favour of political censorship and ridiculous because it endorsed a law that's practically impossible to enforce.

Here's the background:

The law in question is Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act, which bans the "premature transmission" of election results.

Under this law it's an offence to transmit election results from parts of the country where the polls are closed to parts of the country where the polls are still open.

Computer software developer Paul Bryan thought it was a stupid law, that denied his right to free speech. So he challenged it in 2000 when he posted real time election results on his website.

Not long after, he was charged with violating the law and, with the financial support of the National Citizens Coalition, took his case to court.

And so after a six year legal battle, his case made it before the Supreme Court of Canada.

And unfortunately, he lost.

The court didn't apparently didn't care that section 329 infringed on free speech. Why? Because they believed it was a necessary infringement to safeguard what one Justice called "informational equality."

Yes apparently "informational equality" is an important right, more important even than the right to free speech, which just happens to be entrenched in the Charter.

Absolutely amazing.

Of course, what the Court was really saying was that Canadians need to be protected from political information. They need to be kept in the dark just in case voting results influence how they vote.

Never mind the fact, that there is no evidence to suggest allowing a free flow of political information on election night in any way causes any harm to our democratic process.

And if there is no harm, what's the justification for taking away a freedom?

The Court obviously sees itself not as the defender of Charter freedoms, but as a promoter of socialistic paternalism.

Very sad.

What also makes this ruling so insane, is that blackout laws are nearly impossible to enforce in this day and age of instantaneous communications.

Maybe it's a generational thing, but the Supreme Court Justices don't seem to understand the reach of the Internet, or blogs or satellite TV and radio.

People who want to get information on election night will find ways to get it no matter what the courts or the politicians say.

Unless of course, we want to move into the arena of China and Turkey where the Internet is tightly controlled and regulated.

Knowing this Court, that's entirely possible.

Mind you this is not the first time the Court has ruled against freedom. It also ruled in favour of election gag laws a few years ago.

It's part of a disturbing trend and one which should alarm all Canadians who cherish free speech.

Is the blackout fight over?

Well I hope the government will step up and do the right thing and repeal Section 329.

It might happen.

After all, when the NCC took on this case back in 2000 our president was none other than Stephen Harper.

1 comment:

Miles Lunn said...

The real solution is to repeal the law and instead stagger voting hours so the polls only close 30 minutes earlier in Ontario and Quebec and 2 hours earlier in Atlantic Canada while votes won't be counted until all polls close. If they don't start the count until all polls close, then there would no need for the law.