Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Oh Canada

Canada is having an election in the next few months, and (perhaps because their Prime Minister is so nice and reasonable) they have a party running on a platform of Trumpism and climate change denial. But there's a twist: the latter means that it will be illegal for anyone in Canada to state the scientific fact that climate change is real:

A pre-election chill has descended over some environment charities after Elections Canada warned them that discussing the dangers of climate change during the upcoming federal campaign could be deemed partisan activity.

An Elections Canada official warned groups in a training session earlier this summer that because Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, has expressed doubts about the legitimacy of climate change, any group that promotes it as real or an emergency could be considered partisan, said Tim Gray, executive director of the advocacy group Environmental Defence.

The Canada Elections Act dictates that advertising by third parties, like environment groups, can be considered partisan if it promotes or disputes an issue raised by any party or candidate during the campaign period, even without mentioning that party or candidate by name. If the ad campaign on that issue costs at least $500, the third party has to register as such with Elections Canada.

Fortunately, they repealed the clause which would have made it illegal for anyone else in the world to talk about climate change.

Obviously, this is a nonsensical position. If a politician says the sky is green or that 2+2=5, everyone gets gagged from saying otherwise, in any context, unless they include a promoter statement? If a politician says they don't believe in the germ theory of disease, no-one else can say "wash your fucking hands"? In NZ, we avoid this problem by a "may reasonably be regarded as" clause, which rules out such silliness. Canada's definition of "election advertising" does not include such a clause. Of course, its still subject to the affirmation of freedom of expression in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and you'd think that would imply a reasonableness test. But the only way to find that out is to get prosecuted and challenge it in court. Which is simply a terrible way to do electoral law, especially given the consequences for getting it wrong (notably, charities face deregistration if they engage in "partisan political activity" - a definition which until now hasn't included environmental advocacy).

Hopefully Elections Canada will reverse this obviously unreasonable advice. If not, well, I guess we'll find out what civil disobedience to electoral law looks like.