– Supreme Court voids B.C. Transit’s ban on political ads

ED. TransLink was motivated by an upcoming election to ban the messages as they could hurt the Campbell government, even though they most likely knew it was against the law.

The Marlet.ca

Graham Briggs

B.C. Transit and TransLink’s ban on political ads violated free expression, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled this summer.

The case arose in 2005, when the Canadian Federation of Students B.C. (CFS-BC) and the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) tried to buy space on buses for political ads but were denied. B.C. Transit and TransLink policies had allowed commercial ads, but prohibited political ads.

Madam Justice Marie Deschamps said in her July 10 ruling that “the policies amount to a blanket exclusion of a highly-valued form of expression in a public location that serves as an important place for public discourse.”

The court unanimously ruled that the policies unjustifiably limited section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”

The transit authorities claimed that their ban on political ads helped ensure “a safe, welcoming public transit system.”

“It is difficult to see how an advertisement on the side of a bus that constitutes political speech might create a safety risk or an unwelcoming environment for transit users,” Deschamps said.

TransLink also argued that it is not “government” as defined in the Charter and thus not subject to the Charter.

The court found that B.C. Transit and TransLink are “substantially controlled” by government and therefore are government within the meaning of the Charter. Therefore, “all their activities are subject to the Charter.”

The BCTF wanted to place ads reading: “2,500 fewer teachers, 114 schools closed. Your kids. Our students. Worth speaking out for.” Meanwhile, the CFS-BC wanted to place ads reading: “Tuition Fees … Minimum Wage … Environment ROCKTHEVOTEBC.com.”

“[The judgment] is not just a victory for students; it’s a victory for everyone who believes in freedom of speech,” said CFS-BC Chair Shamus Reid.

Reid said the CFS-BC is pleased that other organizations can also reach out to bus riders now.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), an intervener in the case, was also pleased with the judgment.

“The case is a win, because the court has upheld a basic democratic right,” said BCCLA Litigation Director Grace Pastine. “They have rejected the idea that Canadians need to be shielded from debate in public spaces.”

Pastine said the court’s finding regarding the transit authorities’ relation to the Charter is important since the government is delegating more and more of its responsibilities to quasi-governmental bodies or to private bodies.

“We think it’s very important that when subsidiary bodies are created to carry out specific government responsibilities, those bodies themselves need to be subject to the Charter,” Pastine said.

While prohibiting political advertising, the transit authorities also banned ads “likely” to “create controversy.”

Deschamps found that language far too broad.

“Citizens, including bus riders, are expected to put up with some controversy in a free and democratic society,” she said.

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