Ban on public transit ads violates free expression, says Supreme Court | National Union of Public and General Employees

Ban on public transit ads violates free expression, says Supreme Court

British Columbia Transit violated rights to free speech when it refused to carry political ads on the outside of its buses, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

Ottawa (16 July 2009) - British Columbia transit officials violated the Charter right to freedom of expression by refusing to accept political advertisements, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled last Friday. 

The unanimous 8-0 ruling is a victory for the British Columbia Teachers' Federation and the Canadian Federation of Students, two groups that tried to place ads on the outside of BC buses in the run-up to the provincial election in 2005.

BC transit authorities rejected their ads in 2005 on the grounds that they were too political. The ads in dispute raised several issues, including tuition fees, the environment, school closures and the need to vote. 

BC Transit had refused to run them, saying its policy bans political ads along with any message "likely to cause offence … or create controversy."

On Friday, July 10, the Supreme court ruled that BC Transit's argument was out of bounds, concluding that authorities can't place such overt restrictions on political ads, and that excluding ads on the grounds that they may "create controversy" is an "unnecessarily broad limit."

"I have some difficulty seeing 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," wrote Justice Deschamps.

More information:

Judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada

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