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Media Release


Tuesday, May 7, 2002

OTTAWA - Democracy Watch will be intervening in the Stephen J. Harper v. Attorney General of Canada case to be heard by the Alberta Court of Appeal this Thursday, May 9th in Calgary, Alberta. The case is about whether limits on advertising spending during election periods by "third parties" (entities which are not registered political parties or candidates) violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The trial court judge found that the spending limits violate the Charter.

The spending limits were added to the Canada Elections Act in amendments passed in June 2000. The limits restrict advertising spending by third parties during an election period to a national total of $150,000, and no more than $3,000 of the total amount may be spent in any riding promoting or opposing the election of one or more candidates.

In its intervention documents, Democracy Watch puts forward arguments not contained in the federal government's appeal documents.

Democracy Watch argues, based upon the Charter and past Supreme Court of Canada rulings, that the federal government has a positive legal duty to ensure fairness in election campaigns, including ensuring that all citizens have an equal opportunity to exercise meaningful influence over the outcome of elections. Third party spending limits are reasonable and therefore do not violate the Charter, Democracy Watch believes, as they allow political expression by third parties while also helping to equalize the opportunity citizens have to express themselves by preventing the wealthiest sectors of society from using major advertising campaigns to dominate debates on issues during elections.

According to a 1991 survey, referred to in the report completed by the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing (known as the "Lortie Commission"), 75% of Canadians supported limits on spending by interest groups, demonstrating the importance of controlling spending in order to maintain public confidence in the electoral system (a reason which the Supreme Court of Canada has also highlighted in one ruling).

The appeal will be heard this Thursday, May 9th, at the Alberta Court of Appeal, Law Courts Building, court room 512, 1A Sir Winston Churchill Square, Edmonton at 10:00 am. David Baker will represent Democracy Watch as legal counsel at the appeal hearing.

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Aaron Freeman, Board member
Tel: (613) 241-5179
or view Democracy Watch's Money in Politics Campaign page