2013-14 Cross-Canada Free Expression Reports

Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Each year, as part of our Review of Free Expression in Canada, CJFE compiles free expression reports from each of the province and territories. Below is an interactive map featuring articles and links to additional resources about each issue. Roll over the image to reveal links to articles, videos and other related content.

Cross-Canada Free Expression Reports

Read the full reports

Read the full version of the Cross Canada reports below or view the PDF at the bottom of the page. Join CJFE as a Regional Monitor to help ensure we’re covering the issues in your area! Email cjfe@cjfe.org for more information. CJFE monitors free expression issues from coast to coast. Here’s our round-up of news from 2013 and early 2014. BRITISH COLUMBIA

Former Vancouver Olympics CEO sued for defamation

In January 2014, journalist Laura Robinson filed a defamation suit against former VANOC CEO John Furlong. She alleges Furlong made false and maligning statements during a media campaign designed to discredit an article in which Robinson quoted several people accusing Furlong of physical and verbal abuse during his years as a teacher in northern B.C. In November 2012, Furlong filed a defamation suit against Robinson and the Georgia Strait, which published the article. He dropped the suit in October 2013.

B.C. government attempts to suppress release of information

In February 2014, the B.C. government sought to suppress information about the political motives behind its attempt to provoke a teachers’ strike. According to cabinet documents submitted to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, the government assumed a strike would rally public support for legislation that the public was otherwise unlikely to support. As a result, law makers wanted to create conditions that would rouse teachers into action, such as cutting pay and cancelling leave. The NDP submitted an open letter to Premier Christy Clark in February 2014, calling for the documents to be released. ALBERTA

Use of electronic devices in Alberta courtrooms prohibited

In October 2013, the Alberta Court of Appeal issued its Policy on the Use of Electronic Devices in Courtrooms, which prohibits the public from using electronic devices in its courtrooms; only lawyers and “accredited media members” are permitted. Anyone who fails to comply may be ejected from the courtroom or be held in civil contempt of court. While this regulation may be designed to prevent the public from disrupting the functions of the court, there is concern that it discourages openness and transparency in the provincial judiciary and prevents citizens from promoting democratic discourse about courtroom proceedings. SASKATCHEWAN

Failure to respond to access to information requests

In January 2014, three writers representing Briarpatch Magazine filed a statement of claim over access-to-information (ATI) requests submitted to the community of Northern Village of Pinehouse. Briarpatch had made requests in April 2013 to obtain information for an investigative report about controversial mining contracts valued at $200 million. The province’s information and privacy commissioner recommended that the justice minister and attorney general consider prosecuting the mayor for failing to adequately respond to the requests. MANITOBA

Student union defeats motion to ban pro-life club at the University of Manitoba

The University of Manitoba Student Union defeated a motion to revoke the club status of a pro-life student organization in October 2013. The motion was submitted after the club held a pro-life display on campus that equated abortion with genocide. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms submitted a letter to the student union, defending the club’s Charter-protected right to free expression. ONTARIO

Defending investigative journalism

After the Toronto Star broke multiple stories detailing Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s substance use, the Ontario Press Council received complaints from Canadians concerned about the ethics of the Star’s investigation into Ford’s private life. The council held a public hearing to determine whether the newspaper’s investigative reporting was irresponsible and unethical. Concluding that the Star had chronicled events that were a matter of public interest and had engaged in ethical and responsible reporting, the council dismissed the complaints and reaffirmed the importance of free press and investigative journalism in promoting democratic and open institutions.

Libel case against Sun TV personality commences in Toronto

The libel case against Sun TV personality Ezra Levant went to trial in March 2014. Regina lawyer Khurrum Awan filed the $100,000 lawsuit in response to disparaging posts Levant made on his personal blog in 2009, which described Awan as a “liar” and “jihadist.” Levant’s comments were targeted at Awan’s testimony before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal in June 2008; Awan was among a group of students who issued a complaint against an article printed in Maclean’s magazine, “The future belongs to Islam,” claiming the article was Islamophobic. An articling student at the time Levant’s posts were published, Awan asserts the false allegations Levant made against him threatened his credibility as a prospective lawyer. At the time of writing, a decision had yet to be reached. QUEBEC

Montreal municipality upholds anti-protest bylaw

In April 2013, Montreal city councillors voted not to amend a bylaw that restricts freedom of assembly. In addition to prohibiting protesters from wearing masks, bylaw P-6 requires demonstrators to provide their protest route to authorities in advance—otherwise, the demonstration is considered illegal and demonstrators face a fine up to $500. In the weeks leading up to the vote, approximately 800 people were fined under the bylaw. Decrying the bylaw’s chilling effects on constitutional freedoms, protesters held a peaceful sit-in at city hall as the vote took place. NEW BRUNSWICK

RCMP arrests journalist three times

The RCMP has arrested Miles Howe, a journalist for Media Co-op, three times in 2013. He was first detained in July 2013 and charged with uttering threats against a police officer. Howe was arrested again in October while reporting on a violent anti-fracking protest, and was later released without charge. Most recently, the RCMP arrested Howe in November 2013 while he was reporting on seismic testing along a New Brunswick highway; again, charges were eventually dropped. Media Co-op asserts Howe is being targeted by RCMP officers to censor his coverage of Elsipogtog First Nation protests against shale gas exploration in the province. NOVA SCOTIA

Legislature introduces cyberbullying law

In April 2013, Nova Scotia introduced the Cyber-safety Act to provide legal recourse for victims of cyberbullying. The law allows victims to apply for prevention orders that restrict or identify the alleged bullies. In cases where the accused bully is a minor, the bully’s parents can be held responsible for his or her actions under the new legislation. Furthermore, with the creation of the province’s CyberSCAN Unit, the Act also established the first unit in Canada devoted solely to investigating cyberbullying complaints. The first prevention order granted under the Act was issued on Feb. 11, 2014. Designed to curb cyberbullying, the Cyber-Safety Act has been criticized by those who feel its protective measures, such as the seizure of the alleged bully’s electronic devices or the collection of personal information from Internet service providers and Internet companies, are excessive or unnecessary, and could be used to restrict free expression online. PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

Exemptions to freedom of information law

In November 2013, provincial NDP leader Mike Redmond spoke out against “shameful” exemptions given to municipalities and post-secondary institutions under P.E.I.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. P.E.I. is the only Atlantic province without freedom of information (FOI) legislation covering municipal governments— an oversight that impairs local transparency and accountability. These exemptions prevent thorough investigations into the decisions, activities or expenses of municipal governments and post-secondary institutions. According to the NDP, the need for more inclusive FOI legislation is made apparent by reports that the University of Prince Edward Island made plans to develop a new engineering school in spite of recent job cuts, and by Redmond’s call for an independent audit of Charlottetown’s snow removal service in December 2013. NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

Interim premier creates panel to review the province’s access to information law

In January 2014, interim premier Tom Marshall announced plans to form a panel of three experts tasked with reviewing Newfoundland and Labrador’s “toxic” access to information (ATI) laws. The review will focus largely on Bill 29. Passed in 2012, it made amendments to the province’s ATI law that obstructed the release of government documents, increased fees and gave ministers authority to reject “frivolous” requests. The panel members— former premier and chief justice Clyde Wells, former federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart, and former CBC reporter and producer Doug Letto—were announced in March. A full review is expected by January 2015, when the province is due for a mandated election. YUKON

Government accused of muzzling teachers

In April 2013, it was reported that the Yukon government was drafting a policy designed, according to opposition critics, to exert control over education employees making public statements about education-related issues. Known as Making Public Statements, the draft policy was said to contain guidelines for communicating confidential information to the public, including directives to prohibit education employees from providing information to the media without authorization and to refrain from criticizing their employer in public. NORTHWEST TERRITORIES

New media gives youth opportunities to exercise freedom of expression

Innovative media projects developed in the Northwest Territories are giving young students the chance to share their stories. The territory’s first and only youth-driven radio program, Feel Real Radio, hit the airwaves in November 2013. The weekly half-hour program aims to stimulate open discussions about key social issues and showcase positive role models for Northern youth. Similarly, in January 2014, a group of student bloggers at Kaw Tay Whee School, in Dettah, N.W.T., near Yellowknife, started a collective Twitter account (@KTW_School_YK1), where they post photos of their work and adventures at school, talk about what they learn in class and connect with their favourite authors. According to the school’s principal, the students will start recording podcasts later this year. NUNAVUT

Regulations on Internet campaigning

In the days leading up to a territorial general election, reports surfaced alleging that Elections Nunavut enforced undue restrictions on Internet campaigning. In October 2013, a former member of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly and current Alberta resident was informed by Elections Nunavut that, because she did not live in the territory, she was not permitted to express her opinions about electoral candidates using social media. In another instance, a candidate for the Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu constituency revealed that Elections Nunavut issued a directive for all candidates to remove election material from their websites or social media pages. Neither of these directives is explicitly justified by Nunavut’s Elections Act.

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