Local 3570

Local 3570


No Free Speech on BC-STV






March 27, 2005

No Free Speech on BC-STV

The heavy hand of government, disguised as the independent office of
Elections BC, is once again reaching out to strangle free speech; a terse
warning is published on the Elections BC website for anyone who may want to
publicize their opinion regarding the Referendum on Electoral Reform. There
are thousands of "blogs" on the Internet; many BC blogs will probably offer
opinions on electoral reform (whether BC should adopt the bizarre Irish
voting system). During the 2001 election campaign I received threatening
letters from Elections BC which said that my website violated the Election
Act on advertising; it looks like Elections BC and the Campbell government
are up to old tricks.

Despite the fact that the BC Elections Act specifically exempts news and
commentary from restrictions on election expenses, there appear to be
indications that it will attempt to silence those who use the Internet to
publish their thoughts. Section 180(5)(d) of the Election Act provides that
the following is not an election expense: "publishing without charge news,
an editorial, an interview, a column, a letter or a commentary in a bona
fide periodical publication or a radio or television program"

At the time that was drafted, computers were 486s without the power to make
the World Wide Web very useful; technology has come a long way in ten years,
but the concept of freedom of speech hasn't changed. Nevertheless, on
February 23, 2005 Order in Council 53/2005 was made . It defines "referendum
advertising" as "advertising used during the referendum campaign period to
promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, a specific response in voting in
the referendum."

Elections BC also states that "advertising is any promotional materials,
including, but not limited to leaflets, lawn signs, billboards, brochures,
buttons, badges, newspapers, radio, television, newsletters, Web sites, and
public address systems."

There appears to be a contradiction between Section 180 of the Election Act
and the Electoral Reform Referendum. When is a website a "bona fide
periodical publication" and when is it an election advertisement? The
Electoral Reform Referendum Regulation provides for Division 11 of the
Election Act to apply to the referendum; in particular, Section 239 provides
that "Subject to subsection (2), an individual or organization who is not
registered under this Division must not sponsor election advertising."
Section 244(1) states: "Subject to subsection (3), if during a campaign
period an individual or organization sponsors election advertising that has
a total value of $500 or a higher amount established by regulation, the
sponsor must file with the chief electoral officer an election advertising
disclosure report in accordance with this section and section 245."

Most Internet blogs cost less than $40 a month to publish. Will the heavy
hand of the Campbell government reach out to prosecute Internet blog
publishers as "advertisers" or will bloggers be recognized as bona fide
periodical publishers? The Campbell government may try to hide behind the
independence of Elections BC, but no order in council, no regulation, is
proclaimed except by an order of cabinet; in other words, the Campbell
government is fully responsible for all aspects of the Electoral Reform
Referendum Regulation. It is the responsibility of Premier Campbell and his
Attorney General to say whether they will prosecute bloggers for expressing
their freedom of speech on the Internet, or whether they will require
websites to register under the Campbell government's oppressive legislation
for fear of prosecution.

The referendum question that will be put before the voters is biased. With
the wording: "Should British Columbia change to the BC-STV electoral system
as recommended by the Citizens╣ Assembly on Electoral Reform?▓, the question
encourages voters to express confidence in the Assembly even if they don't
know anything about "BC-STV" The referendum question deserves serious
debate, and a resounding vote of NO. Elections BC has no business violating
basic Charter rights of free speech in its attempt to regulate participation
in the referendum debate.