Teachers are welcoming today’s BC Court of Appeal ruling that Bill 42, the so-called “gag law” limiting third-party advertising prior to provincial election campaigns, is unconstitutional. Today’s unanimous decision upholds an earlier BC Supreme Court ruling in a case brought forward by the BC Teachers’ Federation and three other public sector unions.
"This is a win not only for the BCTF and our partners in this case, but for all British Columbians,” said BCTF President Susan Lambert. “Today’s ruling reasserts for all of us the right to freedom of expression and full participation in the public and political dialogue of our province.”
Lambert described Bill 42 as “an outrageous assault on the fundamental freedom that underpins every democracy—freedom of expression.” She said: “We teach our students about democratic ideals, about freedom of speech, and the ability to debate, discuss, and challenge ideas. We want to encourage active citizenship and vigorous democratic engagement in the younger generation.”
By contrast, Lambert said the BC Liberal government has repeatedly used legislation to limit rights and discourage dissent. “Bill 42 attempted to silence the voices of teachers and other citizens, and so we are very heartened that the Appeal Court heard our concerns and agreed.”
In court, the BCTF argued that the Bill 42 restrictions on free expression were unprecedented in Canada because they restricted a vast array of political discourse in BC over an 88-day period, including not only the election campaign but also 60 days prior. During the precampaign period the Legislature is still sitting: budgets, spending plans, and spending cuts are revealed; policy is announced; legislation is introduced, debated, and enacted. The unions did not challenge the restrictions during the campaign period, but successfully argued that during the pre-election period there should be no limits on political expression.
“The pre-election period is the precise time when citizen engagement should be most valued and encouraged,” Lambert said. She also emphasized the importance of unions and other organizations that represent the collective voices of citizens being able to express their views through advertising.
“It’s very costly to engage in the public debate today. When government has access to millions of public dollars to promote its policies and actions, it’s crucial that citizens be able to pool their resources to gain access to the airwaves and express their views,” Lambert said.
Click here to read the complete text of the Appeal Court ruling.