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

Mounties warn about open liquor at Rossland Carnival

They’ll be out there watching for illegal drinking

The Trail Smoke Eaters win in a shootout over Wenatchee Wild

The Trail Smoke Eaters split its two-game series against the Wenatchee Wild on weekend

River rising in Trail

For up-to-date reservoir elevation and river flow information, visit BC Hydro’s website bchydro.com

Former ski champ and MLA’s son hope to open Castlegar cannabis store next month

Felix Belczyk and Ben Conroy are in the approval process for local Spiritleaf outlet

Victorian-era magnate, con artist had Rossland connections

New book explores fascinating history of Whitaker Wright

UPDATE: B.C. legislature managers accused of excessive travel, personal expense claims

Clerk Craig James, security chief Gary Lenz call allegations ‘completely false’

B.C. man fined $10,000 after leaving moose to suffer before death

Surrey man was convicted last week on three Wildlife Act charges

‘Blue Monday’ isn’t real, but depression can be

CMHA encourages people to prioritize their mental health

Anti-pipeline group wants NEB to consider impact of emissions, climate change

Stand.earth filed NEB motion asking to apply same standard to the project as it did with Energy East pipeline

B.C. man charged in 2014 snake venom death of toddler

Henry Thomas was taking care of the North Vancouver girl the day before she died

Parole granted for drunk driver who killed B.C. RCMP officer

Kenneth Jacob Fenton will be able to attend alcohol abuse treatment, nearly three years after crash that killed Const. Sarah Beckett

B.C.’s largest public-sector union wants inquiry into money laundering, drugs

Union officials say Premier John Horgan and Attorney General David Eby have not ruled out the possibility of a public inquiry

Teen in confrontation with Native American: I didn’t provoke

Nick Sandmann of Covington Catholic High School said he was trying to defuse the situation

New military armoury opens in Cranbrook

Military presence in the Key City a part of the 44th Engineer Squadron

Most Read