Canadians will be able to tweet and blog the results of the next federal election while B.C. voters are still at the polls without fear of prosecution, the Conservative government announced Friday.
The Tories intend to scrap an outdated section of the Canada Elections Act that bans the communication of electoral results while some Canadians are still casting their ballots.
“Our government is committed to bringing Canadian elections into the 21st century by getting rid of this dated and unenforceable law,” Democratic Reform Minister Tim Uppal stated, after announcing the move on Twitter.
“Canadians should have the freedom to communicate about election results without fear of penalization,” he added.
Paul Bryan, the B.C. software designer who unsuccessfully challenged the law all the way to the Supreme Court told The Huffington Post Canada he’s cautiously optimistic.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s unreasonable to try to stop the flow of information – especially when the information is both factual and essentially political in nature.”
It’s unrealistic, Bryan argued, for the government to furnish millions of Canadians with information and then order them to be “under embargo.”
In 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the 1938 law which prevents the early transmission of electoral results. A corresponding clause fines willful perpetrators a maximum of $25,000.
Bryan was charged $1,000 for posting the results of the 2000 federal election from Atlantic Canada on his website before the polls closed in other parts of the country.
He was convicted by a B.C. court but the province’s superior court overturned his ruling two years later. In 2005, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the original decision and the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, agreed, ruling the section of the law did not breach of the Charter of Rights’ guarantee of freedom of speech because it imposed a “reasonable limit” and maintained “informational equality” among citizens.
There was a brief reprieve in 2004 when the ban was lifted between court hearings. During that election, in which Paul Martin’s Liberals won a minority over Stephen Harper, media outlets shared the results live across the country.
Since 1996, voting hours have been staggered with polls closing later in Newfoundland and Labrador and earlier in B.C. leaving only a three-hour gap so fewer election results are available to be shared.
The Prime Minister has never been a fan of the law. In a 2001 letter, when he was president of the National Citizens Coalition, Harper stated: “The jackasses at Elections Canada are out of control.”
He described Bryan as a “persecuted citizen” whose home had been raided by RCMP officers attempting to seize his computer’s hard drive.
“What was Paul’s crime?” Harper asked in a fundraising letter to help pay Bryan’s legal costs. “He simply posted news on his personal website. And no, it wasn’t part of a criminal conspiracy, or luring children toward violent pornography,” he said.
Harper appeared baffled that the then “heavy-handed” chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, would target Bryan who was not the only one distributing voting results from East to West on election day.
“Those with telephones could get the information from their aunt Mabel living in Toronto. With Internet access, you could get the results internationally from 'Yahoo.' And those with satellite TV could get the results from American networks like CNN or ABC, and even from the government’s own CBC satellite news service!” he wrote.
In a report this August, the current Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand called upon parliamentarians to scrap the ban. Mayrand acknowledged he had no information from the 2011 election to suggest there was widespread disregard for the rule, but he said the time had come to update the law.
"Nevertheless, the growing use of social media puts in question not only the practical enforceability of the rule, but also its very intelligibility and usefulness in a world where the distinction between private communication and public transmission is quickly eroding. The time has come for Parliament to consider revoking the current rule," he said.