On guard for freedom
Do you remember Bill C-169? That was the bill described as “a stunning breach of the right of free speech—surely the most draconian anti-demographic law written in Canada in my years.” (Edmonton Journal, January 5, 1984).
Bill C. -169 took away our right of free speech at election times. The story of how the bill was passed and later overturned bears repeating for we have been warned that our “unalienable right” of free speech at election time is once again in danger
Bill C. 169 amended the Canadian Elections Act, ostensibly to control candidates’ expenses during elections. On October 15, 1983, in exactly 32 minutes, and with “the understanding that there is an agreement among the parties,” the bill was rushed through the House of Commons.
It (Bill C 169) does in some way impinge on the rights of individuals or organizations to represent their opinions during an election campaign. The amendment would eliminate third party or special interest group advertising during the election period..”
The bill made it “an offence, subject to a $5000.00 fine and five years in prison, for anyone to advertise in support of or opposition to a registered party or candidate without the permission of the party or candidate.” Third parties, such as Campaign Life (and, at the time, Coalition for Life) were forbidden to print, publish, post or distribute any advertisement, handbill, placard, poster or bumper sticker concerning a candidate or party.
So stringent was this wording that the Chief Electoral Officer recognized that a newspaper editorial might be judged an offence. His report said: Parliament may find it desirable, in the right of the Charter, to be more explicit and specifically exempt media editorals from the proposed amendment. (Harvard, January 19, 1984).
Richard J. Doyle’s reaction to all of this was: “with the first improvement of haste since the invention of the zipper, Canada moved to gag its citizens during election time.” “(Globe and Mail, January 21, 1984)
The bill was passed on October 25, 1983, and the media did not react until January 1984. The most frightening point is that the law was pushed through, and nobody saw the threats to our liberty and freedom of speech, neither the media nor the ordinary freedom-loving MP’s. Nobody, that is, except on vigil and pro-life.
Campaign-Life entered the story in mid-November 1983, when the Toronto office received a call from this wide awake pro-lifer. He was a man who always read Hansard with great interest, and he had noted that two of the party spokesmen had misgivings about the legitimacy of Bill C-169 under the Charter, and that both were anxious to curb the activities of so-called “one-issue groups.”
Mr. Murphy, the NDP. Member from Churchill had said: “This may be an area which would be enforced under the Charter of Rights. It does in some way impinge on the rights of the individuals or organizations to represent their opinions during an election campaign.” He was openly anxious to curtail the activities of single-issue groups who “are simply pushing a very emotional issue [abortion?] to the extent that it clouds the real political issues of campaign.”
The P.C. spokesman, Mr. Chuck Cook, member for North Vancouver-Burnaby, allowed that the law could be and probably would be challenged in the courts, and added: “The amendment would eliminate third party or special interest group advertising during the election periods..”(Hansard, October 25, 1983.)
Gwen Landolt, at that time Campaign Life’s legal counsel,, asked for the full text of Bill C-a69 and it arrived just before Toronto delegates took the place to Edmonton for the Campaign Life National meeting. Gwen studied the bill during the flight and reported it was indeed bad news, not only for the pro-life movement but for other groups too.
As other organizations were still blissfully unconscious of any danger, Campaign Life decided to blow a whistle, and issued a press release.
The response was total silence from the media: the warning had fallen on deaf ears. However, one organization, the National Citizens’ Coalition (NCC) recognized the attack on free speech at election time. They decided to act.
In early January 1984, many Canadian choked over their breakfast coffee when they read the NCC newspaper advertisements which explained how Parliament had removed their right of free speech. The NCC asked for funds to challenge the law in court, and the pledge of contributors read; “I refuse to be muzzled. I’m fighting back.
The response was overwhelming. Suddenly the media realized they had missed an important story and newspapers across the county lambasted Parliament.
The NCC chose to challenge the law before the Alberta Supreme Court, and Mark MacGuigan, the former Justice Minister, was named as defendant. On June 16, 1984, Mr. Justice Donald Medhurst of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench ruled that Bill C-169 violated the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The decision was to be appealed by the Liberal Government to the Supreme Court and the law was struck down.
Thus, not many weeks later in the 1984 election, Campaign Life Coalition and the NCC. Were free to discuss issues (such as abortion) without fear of $5000.00 fines or five years in prison.
Unfortunately, however, the story does not end there and in the late fall of 1992 the NCC distributed to their supporters a copy of a Draft Canada Elections Act (as proposed in volume 3 of the Royal Commission of Electoral Reform).
The Act is obviously meant to prevent us (pro-lifers) and other groups, from presenting our views in an election.”
The draft allows third parties, such as Campaign Life Coalition to spend some money in an election, but the amounts are so ludicrously small that the intent is clear. The Act is obviously meant to prevent us, and other groups, from presenting our views in an
If we refuse to be muzzled, the suggested penalties are a fine of not less than $1000.00 and imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. And not this: Where an offence under this Act is committed or continued on more than one day, each day shall constitute a separate offence.”
It may be a cliché but it is nonetheless that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The National Citizens’ Coalition is determined not to be caught napping, and pro-life groups must also be on the alert.
It is also important to note that it was the vigilance of one man that saved the freedom of speech at election time for all of Canada. One man changed the history of the pro-life movement in Canada. His name is Frank Foley of Arnprior, Ontario. He is former director of the Ottawa lobby office of Campaign Life Coalition