(For immediate release --- Thursday, May 22, 1997)

The Latest Internet Censor: Elections Canada

Elections Canada has instructed an Ottawa man that he must alter or remove his world-wide-web page, entitled "Vote Green!". Failure to comply could result in a $1,000 fine or up to a year in jail. With more than 25 "mirror sites" popping up all around the world, it's clear this is an issue that isn't going away. Electronic Frontier Canada, the nation's leading organization devoted to preserving Charter rights in cyberspace, plans to fight this censorship in court.

Krishna Bera didn't want to be a criminal -- he just wanted to express his opinion during the federal election campaign. His mistake? He chose to express his opinion anonymously. Now he's been threatened with fines or imprisonment by Elections Canada.

Bera, a 33-year-old Ottawa computer consultant and environmentalist, composed a world-wide-web page entitled "Vote Green!", and published it through his local service provider (  http://www.achilles.net/~kebera/anon/vote-green.html ). The page is a calm and inoffensive statement in favour of the Green Party, and contains a link to the official Green Party page ( http://www.green.ca ). But Bera chose not to identify who wrote or sponsored the page in question. According to government bureaucrats, this is a serious offence.

On May 9, Bera received a stern letter from Raymond Landry, Commissioner of Canada Elections, warning him that "sponsors of political advertising must indicate on their internet advertisements the name of the group or individual who is authorizing the advertisement." According to sections 259.2 and 267 of the Canada Elections Act, Bera can be fined up to $1,000 or jailed for up to 1 year, just because of his anonymous web page.

"This is censorship, pure and simple," says David Jones, president of Electronic Frontier Canada (EFC), a non-profit organization devoted to the preservation of civil liberties in electronic media. "The right to speak anonymously is a fundamental one. Anonymity plays an important role for many Canadians: Alcoholics Anonymous, rape crisis centers, suicide prevention hotlines, anonymous tips to police through Crime-Stoppers, or whistle-blowers that alert the public to government corruption.

EFC's Vice-President, Jeffrey Shallit, agrees. "The law is clearly contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The right to anonymous political speech is essential in a free society. Without it, how can powerful governments be challenged by citizens afraid of reprisals?" He pointed to Thomas Paine's Common Sense as an example of an important political document originally published anonymously.

Jones adds, "Canadians already have the right to communicate anonymously via public payphones and the post office. Canada Post doesn't demand that letters contain return addresses. There's no valid rationale for prohibiting anonymous political web pages."

Bera, lacking his own resources to fight Elections Canada's censorship, reluctantly removed his page after receiving Landry's letter. But in a surprising development, Bera's page has now been "mirrored" on more than 25 different computers in six different countries -- including several in Canada -- and the number is increasing daily.

The first to mirror Bera's page was Jim Carroll, co-author of the Canadian Internet Handbook. He explains his rationale as follows: "My books about the Internet have sold some 300,000 copies in Canada, and I appear frequently in the national media. I try to help Canadians understand all kinds of developments on the Internet. It is only natural that I would jump at the opportunity to help Canadians understand what is happening in terms of efforts to stifle the expression of political opinion online, by making available to them this so-called illegal web page."

"I don't think my mirror of the `Vote Green!' web page is illegal", says Carroll. "Efforts by Elections Canada to censor the Net are dangerous. It is extremely chilling to be in a situation in which political speech online is interpreted by an Ottawa bureacrat to be an advertisement and therefore illegal. The Internet is many different things to many different people. What might be considered an advertisement by one, might be a form of political commentary or journalism by another."

Lawyers working with Electronic Frontier Canada are preparing to challenge section 259.2(1) of the Canada Elections Act in court. "Other sections of the Act have already been struck down by the Alberta Court of Appeal," says EFC's Jeffrey Shallit. "We are confident that any reasonable judge will find that banning anonymous political speech by private citizens is unjustified and violates the Charter."

Meanwhile, Bera's own web page has been replaced with one that reads "CENSORED". But more than 25 mirror sites around the world explain why: "Elections Canada is attempting to squelch ... freedom online, and is thereby attacking the democracy it is supposed to be supporting."


Related Documents:

Letter from Commissioner of Canada Elections (sent: 05may97, received: 09may97)
Commissioner Raymond Landry instructs the apparent author of the ``Vote Green!'' web page to comply with the Canada Elections Act.

List of "Vote Green!" Mirror Sites
This web page contains links to the growing number of mirror sites, plus additional background documents.

Canada Elections Act (excerpt)
This excerpt includes section 259.2(1) which makes anonymous political ads on the Net illegal, section 261.(2) which makes anonymous political pamphlets illegal, and section 267 that provides for fines of up to $1,000 or imprisonment for up to one year for these offences.

Canada Elections Act
If you have the patience, the entire text of the legislation is available.

excerpt from Elections Canada press conference (02apr97)
When Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, talks about the Internet, it isn't clear he appreciates the distinctions between chat, e-mail, usenet news, and web pages. Read this transcript to get his view on how Elections Canada should regulate political advertising on the web.

Alberta Court of Appeal Decision
Sections 213(1), 259.1(1), and 259.1(2) were recently found to be unconstitutional because they place unreasonable limits on freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the right to an informed vote.

EFC Contact Information:

Electronic Frontier Canada

Dr. David Jones, djones@efc.ca
phone: (905) 525-9140 ext. 24689, fax: (905) 546-9995
Dr. Jeffrey Shallit, shallit@efc.ca
phone: (519) 888-4804, fax: (519) 885-1208
Dr. Richard Rosenberg, rosen@efc.ca
phone: (604) 822-4142, fax: (604) 822-5485

Electronic Frontier Canada's, online archives:
URL: http://www.efc.ca

Contact Information:

Krishna Bera
Computer Consultant (censored by Elections Canada)
addr: 2-183 Holmwood Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, K1S 2P3
email: keberal@achilles.net
web: http://www.achilles.net/~kebera/
phone:  (613) 237-1788
fax: (613) 567-3394

Jim Carroll
Internet Guru (author of Canadian Internet Handbook)
addr: 1395 Birchwood Drive, Missississauga Ontario, L5J 1T3
email: jcarroll@jimcarroll.com
web: http://www.jimcarroll.com/
phone:  (905) 855-2950
fax: (905) 855-0269

Bret Dawson
Mirror Site Webmaster
addr: 42 Armstrong Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M6H 1V8
email: bretd@gold.interlog.com
web: http://www.interlog.com/~bretd/
phone:  (416) 532-8436

Jean-Pierre Kingsley
Chief Electoral Officer
John Enright
Public Relations Officer for Elections Canada
email: elecan@magi.com
web: http://www.elections.ca
phone:  1 (800) 267-7360 (toll free)
phone: (613) 993-2224
phone: (613) 991-3883
phone: (613) 850-0634 (cell phone)
fax: (613) 954-8584

Raymond Landry
Commissioner of Canada Elections
addr: 257 Slater Street, Ottawa, K1A 0M6
phone:  (613) 998-4051
fax: (613) 990-4877