Campaign signs in Victoria.

Personal signs, bumper stickers exempt from B.C. election ad law: Supreme Court

High court upholds B.C. election ad law that forces anyone sponsoring a political advertisement during a provincial election to register

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a British Columbia law that forces people to register before sponsoring political advertising during a provincial election, even when little or no money is spent.

But the high court’s 7-0 ruling Thursday makes it clear the law doesn’t apply to someone who wears a T-shirt with a political slogan or slaps a bumper sticker on their car.

Section 239 of the province’s Election Act requires sponsors of election advertising during a campaign period to register their name, telephone number and address with B.C.’s chief electoral officer.

Failure to register could result in a year behind bars and a fine of up to $10,000.

The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association challenged the provision, saying it amounted to an absolute ban on unregistered advertising that violated the charter right to freedom of expression.

In 2014, a trial judge found the section of the law in question infringed freedom of expression, but declared the violation a justifiable one under the charter.

The following year the B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed the non-profit association’s challenge of that ruling, prompting an appeal to the Supreme Court.

In its arguments to the high court, the association said the Election Act provision would cover even the display of a home-made sign in a window or a car bumper sticker.

The association pointed out that the province’s chief electoral officer had concerns about the law’s scope. In 2010 the electoral officer told the legislature the provision was causing “considerable confusion and administrative burden” due to the lack of a threshold for registration.

The association therefore advocated an exception for those spending less than $500 on election advertising. It noted that $500 is the standard threshold in similar legislation across the country, except for Alberta, where it is $1,000.

The B.C. attorney general countered that someone who merely put up a hand-drawn poster would not have to register under the Election Act provision.

In its ruling Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed.

“In my view, the Act does not catch small-scale election advertising of this nature,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote on behalf of the court.

She said the Election Act limits the registration requirement to “sponsors” – individuals and organizations who receive advertising services from others in undertaking election ad campaigns.

“Individuals who neither pay others to advertise nor receive advertising services without charge are not ‘sponsors,'” she wrote.

“They may transmit their own points of view, whether by posting a handmade sign in a window, or putting a bumper sticker on a car, or wearing a T-shirt with a message on it, without registering.”

The association welcomed the ruling – despite the fact its case was dismissed – for making it clear the law won’t apply to those who merely express their own views during the next B.C. campaign.

“People will be able to express themselves in the coming election without fear of jail or fines,” said Vincent Gogolek, the association’s executive director.

@JimBronskill

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Greyhound calls for public transportation fund

Made-for-the-north proposal would open northern routes to bidding process

Site C dam goes ahead, cost estimate now up to $10.7 billion

Premier John Horgan says Christy Clark left him no other choice

Junior boys go 1-2 in Terrace play day this weekend

The junior Kermodes defeated Smithers, but lost to Charles Hays and the senior Centennial boys

Festival of Lights 2017

Church choirs helped kick off the family event in downtown Terrace

Caledonia Kermode basketball team jumps into season

The senior boys played a tournament this weekend in Terrace, winning one, losing two

Crown appeals stay against Jamie Bacon in Surrey Six killings

B.C.’s prosecution service says judge’s decision reveals ‘errors of law’

Feds agree to give provinces 75 per cent of pot tax revenues

Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced the agreement today

Red Scorpion associates cuffed in drug-trafficking bust

Kamloops RCMP lay charges in connection to Red Scorpion drug trafficking ring

Greyhound calls for public transportation fund

Made-for-the-north proposal would open northern routes to bidding process

Emergency response ‘well executed’ in B.C. carbon monoxide poisoning

Emergency Health Services talks about how first responders dealt with this ‘mass casualty event’

WestJet Christmas video turns children’s wishes into reality

This year’s annual video took a new spin on the 12 days of Christmas

Firefighters protect seaside California towns as blaze rages

A flare-up on the western edge of Southern California’s largest and most destructive wildfire sent residents fleeing Sunday

Putin declares victory on visit to air base in Syria

Declaring a victory in Syria, Putin on Monday visited a Russian military air base in the country and announced a partial pullout of Russian forces from the Mideast nation.

Most Read