Friday, January 13, 2012

Harper Restores Free Expression on Election Night

Media reports say the Harper government is dropping the election night black out ban.

This is a great victory for freedom.

The black out ban, technically known as Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act, prohibited the "premature transmission" of election results.

In other words, under this law you couldn’t reveal how Canadians voted in a region where the polls are closed, to Canadians living in a region where the polls are still open.

And believe me, the bureaucrats at Elections Canada enforced Section 329 with a Spanish-Inquisition like zealotry.

Just ask Paul Bryan.

Back in 2000 Paul, a British Columbia software developer, decided he would defy the law because he believed it infringed on free speech.

So, acting on principle, he posted real-time election results from Atlantic Canada on his website. This was back in the Stone Age era of the Internet when there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Craigs List. (How did we survive?)

Please note, Paul didn't project winners. He didn't provide analysis. He simply gave British Columbians a chance to see how voters in Newfoundland were casting their ballots.

Elections Canada took notice of this egregious crime and took immediate action to safeguard democracy.

The next day they dispatched police to Paul's home and officially charged him with a crime. The police also seized his computer  hard drive and other equipment.

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper, who back then was still president of the National Citizens Coalition, was outraged with the bullying ways of Elections Canada.

So the NCC took up Paul's cause and challenged the law in the courts.

Unfortunately, in an incredibly short-sighted ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against Paul and sided with Elections Canada, so the black out rule remains in effect.

Of course, it's a law which is now probably unenforceable. Modern communication technology has rendered it impossible to keep track of all possible violators.

As one of the lawyers arguing against Section 329 told the Supreme Court justices, "The only way to get fairness is to get rid of Section 329 or to shut the power off on election day so no one gets any results."

Prime Minister Harper has now pulled the plug on this ridiculous law. And for that he deserves the thanks of all Canadians who cherish free speech. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Question: If they thought it was worth delaying the reporting of results until all polls were closed across the country, why couldn't Elections Canada simply not release poll results from the East until the last poll closed in the West?