Elections Ontario asked to disclose MPP complaints that could muzzle community groups

Elections Ontario needs to disclose the number of complaints it has received from provincial MPPs about election advertising laws after a cabinet minister “armed” the controversial new rules by requesting an investigation into three grassroots organizations, says the Canadian Freedom Association. Civil.

“Under the new third-party spending regime, which the CCLA and others are fighting in court, new and onerous restrictions have been enacted to muzzle community activists and other local organizations. The system has already been armed by a government minister, Steve Clark, against groups in his own leadership, ”the association said in its announcement Monday morning.

Cara Zwibel, director of the association’s fundamental freedoms program, said that “Elections Ontario must immediately disclose if and how many other complaints have been filed by MPPs under this system. We must have full transparency and know how many groups are being intimidated and gagged by the government ”.

He is also asking community groups that have been targeted by politicians to contact them.

Clark’s complaints, first reported by the Star, focused on three groups: two in his leadership in eastern Ontario who oppose the province’s move to build a new prison in Kemptville, a community of 4,000 people.

He wrote to Elections Ontario last month, saying the groups were “doing political publicity for unregistered third parties” by sending out announcements and putting up signs on the lawn to draw attention to the proposed installation.

The Coalition Against the Proposed Prison (CAPP) and the Jail Opposition Group (JOG) have voiced their views on the lack of consultation on the province’s plans to build a 235-bed maximum security facility in Kemptville, which does not has social services, shelters, court or public transportation.

Colleen Lynas, director of CAPP, has said she was “stunned” to learn of the complaint alleging that the nonpartisan group of retirees was accused of breaking the law.

On Monday, he said it was concerning that “a member of the provincial legislature and a Crown minister would use his position of power to take such a harsh approach against his own constituents. From our perspective, it feels like Minister Clark is trying to silence us. ”

Elections Ontario dismissed Clark’s complaints against the two Kemptville groups, but directed a third group he had complained about, the Pacific Parks Coalition, to register as a third advertiser.

AnnaMaria Valastro, from the parks coalition, said “the rules are not simple.”

She said that after receiving the complaint, she began the registration process, only to find that it was complicated and cumbersome, and involved having to hire a certified accountant – something her small group couldn’t afford.

“They really should leave the people alone and accept the spirit of a democratic electoral system where citizens take their role in elections. Citizens have the right to speak with their neighbors, they have the right to discourage the vote of the candidate who in their opinion has failed them or to encourage a candidate to represent them. And if there are any genuine concerns around super CAPs, the policy should address that directly. ”

Last summer, the Ford administration faced criticism when it forced passage of legislation invoking the “without prejudice clause” of the Bill of Rights and Freedoms that was rarely used to enact limits on third-party advertising spending, capped at $ 600,000 up to 12 months before an election. Any organization that spends more than $ 500 on political advertising must now also register as a third party, and the groups cannot work together.

Zoe Knowles, Clark’s communications director, previously told the Star that the minister had “heard from a number of concerned voters about the increase in political activity by third-party organizations in the lead.”

But critics say the definition of what political advertising is remains unclear, meaning it could be used to create a chill among those who want to speak on an issue.

Paul Cavalluzzo, the lawyer for the Working Families union coalition that has launched a constitutional challenge to the law, said the definition could be used in “situations that have absolutely nothing to do with elections” as has happened to groups of workers. Kemptville.

It could discourage grassroots organizations from speaking up if they fear being the target of a complaint or the possibility of having to hire expensive legal help, he also said.

The CCLA intervenes in the judicial challenge.

Knowles, however, has said that Elections Ontario’s “mandate is to maintain the integrity, security and transparency of the electoral process, which includes educating political organizations on their legislated requirements and responsibilities.”

Elections Ontario previously told the Star that details of the number and type of complaints are included in its annual report and that it “does not comment on whether it has received complaints.”


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