Judge strikes down key parts of B.C. gag law

'A significant victory for free speech and our democratic process.' - BCGEU president Darryl Walker.

Victoria (1 April 2009) - The British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU/NUPGE), and other labour groups, have scored a major victory for free speech with the decision by a provincial supreme court justice to strike down key portions of a B.C. gag law restricting third-party advertising 60 days prior to a provincial election.

B.C. voters go to the polls May 12 to elect a new provincial government.

Justice Frank Cole, in a major ruling on Tuesday, found key portions of Bill 42, passed by the government of Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell last year, unconstitutional. Unions such as BCGEU were one of the main targets of the legislation.

The judge said the bill violated basic freedom of expression rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He struck down advertising limits that apply to the 60-day period before an election campaign begins. However, he said a limit of $150,000 on third-party groups during the 28-day campaign period will remain in place.

The campaign period, established by B.C. law, officially begins on April 14.

Judge Cole recommended that the government amend the law before the election to comply with the Charter but the government rejected the advice. Instead, it will allow the legislature to prorogue for the campaign and use the courts to appeal the ruling.

'A significant victory'

"This is an important decision and a significant victory for free speech and our democratic process," says BCGEU president Darryl Walker.

"It reaffirms the constitutional right of groups like BCGEU to campaign on important public policy issues, advocate solutions that will make our province a better place and hold the government to account," Walker says.

"It's also a real slap on the wrists for the B.C. Liberals who tried to use the legislation to silence groups in the lead up to and during the election campaign."

The law suit was funded by BCGEU and seven other unions (and supported by a host of groups). Besides BCGEU, the list includes the B.C. Federation of Labour (BCFL), the B.C. Nurses Union (BCNU), the B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF), the Hospital Employees' Union (HEU), the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) Local 378, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE B.C.), the Federation of Post Secondary Educators (FPSE), the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. (TLABC).

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE
 

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