The B.C. government has again had its so-called gag law on third-party election spending declared unconstitutional by the provinces top court.
The Court of Appeal ruled Thursday that amendments to B.C.s Election Act, which would limit third-party spending on advertising during a pre-election period before a campaign, unjustly limit freedom of political expression.
Its the second time such legislation has been found to violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Justice Minister Shirley Bond said her government would respect the courts very thorough and clear reasons and not appeal.
We sent this case to the B.C. Court of Appeal for their advice, and we are going to accept that advice, Bond said.
Although government had passed the law, it didnt bring into force certain sections while awaiting the court ruling. Bond said those sections would now be abandoned.
The government first passed legislation in 2008 to limit third-party spending on advertising during the 60 days before an election campaign began. The legislation was justified as a way to prevent corporations, lobby groups and unions from an unlimited spending spree and advertisement blitz before a fixed-date election campaign began.
Public sector unions called it a gag law and took the government to court, where the legislation was overturned. The government appealed and lost again in 2011.
Premier Christy Clark took another run at the issue in May, when her government passed a similar law, but changed the time limit to 40 days and added a 21-day buffer for unlimited spending after a legislative session.
But the Court of Appeal found the new law did not change many of the constitutional problems from 2008.
The changes in the new law curtailed freedom of political expression, and were as constitutionally flawed as in 2008, wrote Justice P.D. Lowry. In addition, the definition of election advertising was too broad, Lowry wrote.
Further, there is no clear and compelling reason to conclude the limitations on election advertising, and hence the freedom of political expression, in the campaign period are equally necessary in the pre-campaign period to preserve election fairness, the judge wrote.
NDP critic Leonard Krog blasted the Liberal government for its silly approach of pursuing unnecessary and flawed legislation.
The result is no surprise, Krog said. The opposition and many, many others told the government that this was going to fail. And it has.
Krog called the reference to the court wasted money. He said no political party wants to see elections influenced by excessive spending, but said a better method would be to follow an NDP proposal to ban corporate and union donations to political parties.
The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, which was an intervenor in the court case, praised the ruling.
This is a victory for all British Columbians, said executive director Vincent Gogolek in a statement. The government has been told quite clearly that their attempt to restrict free speech is unconstitutional.
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