Canadian journalists face limits on free speech
03 Dec 2013
(Photo illustration: Shutterstock)

(Photo illustration: Shutterstock)

Journalists in the Canadian province of Alberta could see their right to free speech stifled as new legislation, aimed at suppressing the illegal striking of union members, will impose heavy fines on those who comment publically in favour of those picketing.

For members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) it has been illegal to strike since 1977. The new legislation, introduced by Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative government, will abolish the action of arbitration, as well as freezing wages and imposing fines, both for those who take part any form of “illegal” striking and those who comment on it.

According to Bob Barnetson, the director of the Human Resources and Labour Relations programme at Athabasca University, Bill 45 would see newspaper columnists who write opinion pieces about the plight of workers, or those who merely comment “the only option they have is to strike” handed a hefty penalty for their work. Making such comment would be a violation of section 4.4 of the bill.

“So what happens to the editor or academic?” Barnetson wrote on his blog  last week. “Well, s.18.1 says that if you violate s.4.4 you are guilty of an offence. Under s.18.1(d), the editor or academic would be liable for a fine of $500 a day per day of the contravention. Section 20(a) says that prosecution may occur within 1 year of the last day the offense occurred”.

David Climenhaga, a well-known labour blogger in Alberta, believes the imposed fines would stretch as far as catching-out members of the public who showed up at an “illegal” picket line or members of other unions, not subjected to the legislation, who joined a picket out of solidarity: “So, while the bill is mostly careful to restrict penalties to union members and officers, on the always dangerous question of free speech, it extends its attack to “any person” who says the wrong thing to a civil servant.”

Bill 46, which will run alongside Bill 45, will see the 21,642 members of the AUPE forced back to the bargaining table in January or accept a 0% wage increase for the next two years.

An earlier version of this article referred to Alberta as a state. It is a province.

2 responses to “Canadian journalists face limits on free speech”

  1. Roy Berger says:

    Bill 45 underscores the need to not give sitting members of the Provincial or Federal House what they want. For instance,regarding Chong and his piece-meal reform bill. He feels MP’s don’t have enough power. M.P’s do have a voice. They can speak. They can vote. They can break ranks. They are trying to toss out the Senate so they can have emotional, knee-jerk reactions on changing legislation. They can vote their conscience. They vote on laws…regular Canadian citizens aren’t allowed to vote on laws. M.P.’s can cross the floor. They can ride the bus and use sidewalks. They can write papers. They have assistants and offices. They can bring issues to our attention. They can visit their Riding Association. They seem to have a great deal more power than the rest of us because they do and it’s entrenched. It’s not like the public votes on laws. It’s not a like a single MP bothered to protest to the Governor General about Parliament being pro-rogued. No, give them nothing that they ask for. The House of Commons will use it against the Canadian people.

    Remember when we voted on the 1991 Economic proposals? Canadians voted it down in a land slide. Be a long time before Members of Parliament allow a Canadian to vote on a law again, I bet eh.

    I understand that the first job of a politician is to get elected, you know ‘science as a vocation’ a la Max Weber but I would like them to be less concerned about re-election. Chong’s heart may be in the right place but I’d rather see sixteen year olds lining up for the ballot box and voting booth before I say yes to handing over even more power. Seventeen year olds can join the army. Sixteen year olds can decide how to drive a car. If they are adult enough to be arrested for non-violent crimes, they are certainly old enough to vote. Let them vote. It will raise the political IQ of the average household.

    These laws will affect them for a life time. Almost 40% of adults don’t vote. Let the teens have the franchise that adults are abandoning. There is greater merit to letting 16 year olds vote than their is in Mr. Chong’s bill. That’s how I see it. Our kids are valid. No more power for the elite. Election Canada did a study on the subject a generation ago. Time for a re-visit, a lot has changed…like the omnibus war on youth. No, the MP’s that are asking for this are the same ones that have let you down for a life time. Too bad we can’t vote on it. But that’s crappy democracy.

  2. Ulli Diemer says:

    Why does this article focus on the freedom of expression of journalists? The legislation is an attack on the freedom of expression (and other rights) of workers. The article seems to suggest that the legislation would be fine if it only attacked workers’ freedom of expression, but that it goes too far if it also affects journalists and academics. Is it OK to restrict freedom of speech if the law is “careful to restrict penalties to union members and officers?”

    By the way, Canada doesn’t have “states.” Alberta is a province.