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2011 Election, Canadiana

Supreme Court decides not to hear case against Election night media blackout before May 2

Dont Even Think About It

I just read an interesting article in the Edmonton Journal: Paula Simons reminds us all of the rather ‘draconian’ law on the books from the 1930s that prevents election results from the East Coast to be published or broadcast before the polls close on the West Coast. While this was easy enough to do when CBC Radio was your primary method of communicating information, she writes, when every Joe Blow has satellite television, a Twitter account, and is an armchair political blogger like myself, the odds that you will violate federal law on May 2 are pretty decent.

The law is based on the simple and unproven belief that if people report the election results from Newfoundland while people can still vote in British Columbia, that British Columbians – who apparently are sheep, by the way – will simply vote the way the wind is blowing out East in their West Coast riding. Forget their deeply held political convictions – West Coasters will simple-mindedly hop on the bandwaggon that carries the day in the East.

This is rather insulting, when you think about it. Not only to West Coasters, but to anyone who follows politics in Canada closely and makes their living (or, like me, uses their free time) on political commentary. And as Simons argues, this is basically an “unenforceable law that criminalizes routine social media conversation and denies Canadians the right to the kind of in-depth, interactive, online news reporting they have come to expect, and undoubtedly deserve.”

In an effort to address this issue before the May 2 election, CBC and CTV have attempted to take their case to the Supreme Court to have the ruling struck down so that their legions of bloggers, reporters, and pundits may have free range to report as they see fit, and as Canadians demand, on May 2. The SCC turned the case down, arguing that they would not have time to adequately address this issue before Election Day.

And less anyone think that Elections Canada will discriminate between the CBC and someone like myself, for example (how many of us thought we were invincible in the 90’s downloading Big Shiny Tunes 3! when Napster was king until the whole thing fell apart?), Simons brings up the case against blogger Paul Bryan in 2000 who was successfully prosecuted for blogging election results in violation of section 392 of the Elections Canada Act. He was charged $1000 for his infraction on his mum and pop blog, despite taking his claim all the way to the Supreme Court where he lost 5-4. And Bryan had the support of major media outlets from coast to coast!

While I do not imagine that Elections Canada will be coming after me if I report on polls to you fine readers on May 2 before the BC polls close, I’m not likely to take the chance. And no doubt you all will, like me, be watching the results for yourself and will not need my real-time commentary.

I’ll give the last word to Simons: “We can only hope that this election will finally prove to the courts that such a news blackout is…a condescending relic of the 1930s that treats voters like sheep.”

Amen. So I guess I do get the last word. Hell, it’s my blog, so…yeah.

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


3 thoughts on “Supreme Court decides not to hear case against Election night media blackout before May 2

  1. My two cents here… After living in Vancouver during the last federal election, I can say that I now understand (at least somewhat) the sentiment out West. I don’t think the issue is really West coasters jumping on the bandwagon and voting in accordance with the results from Eastern Canada – like sheep. Really, the problem is that out West, you feel like you have NO say in choosing a PM. Before the polls close, the media is already speculating or “calling it”. Their confidence takes the wind out of the sails of West coast voters who are being told – before their polls are closed – that the decision is already made. Reporting the results early doesn’t cause voters out West to rush to the polls like lemmings or sheep or whatevers. It causes them to stay home and not vote at all. Unless they feel strong enough about their specific MP, West coasters (and I know I’m generalizing here) do not feel like they have a say in who is PM. Maybe it all just comes back to electoral reform.

    Posted by Alison Torrie | April 20, 2011, 3:39 pm
    • That’s a fantastic point, Alison, and I’ll be honest – one I have never considered before. The people who are politically engaged would likely come out to vote either way, but for the majority of voters who remain indifferent, this would go a long way to lessening their need to vote. It reminds me of friends in Toronto tuning in at 9:00 pm during our latest municipal election to hear the winner announced, only to have it spoiled for them beforehand because the winner was called at 8:05 because it was a landslide. And I know if I heard everyone saying Rob Ford had won at 7:50, I would not have bothered to rush out and vote before polls closed at 8:00. Thanks for your comment!

      Posted by awreeves | April 20, 2011, 3:48 pm
  2. While I don’t believe that West Coasters are sheep, I still think that a small minority of voters would like to back a winner, maybe being undecided come vote day. That’s why you have Montreal Canadien fans in Toronto. Just kidding. I’m old school on this issue. I likes it just the way it is.

    Posted by JReeves | April 25, 2011, 10:58 pm

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