Know your rights

Political candidates must know their rights under the Canada Elections Act. What follows is an example of what happens when they don't.

Political candidates must know their rights under the Canada Elections Act. What follows is an example of what happens when they don’t.

Recently, a local candidate had arranged to canvass the public, listen to their concerns and discuss the issues. The candidate expected a local shopping centre might be a good place to make a connection with the electorate.

No sooner had the candidate approached several shoppers when stopped by a security guard and politely asked to leave the premises. The candidate enquired why and was told that political messages were not allowed on the property. The candidate replied, “This is public property.” And the security guard, “No, this is private property.” The candidate did not argue the point and quietly acquiesced. It turns out the candidate was right.

The revised Canada Elections Act regulations that came into effect in July, 2007 were designed specifically to improve the ability of candidates to communicate with electors – a fundamental tenet of democracy. The legislation gives candidates and their representatives the right of access to buildings, land, streets or other places that are open, without charge to the public.

Taken verbatim from a letter from Canada’s chief electoral officer at the time: “The new provisions make it an offence for persons in control of public places, such as shopping malls, to prevent candidates and their representatives from campaigning when the premises are open without charge to members of the public. This right of access exists equally for all candidates, irrespective of their political affiliation or the views that they promote.”

The exception would be if campaigning activities were incompatible with the function and purpose of the place or inconsistent with public safety. Those circumstances, suggested the CEO, would be rare. The penalty for not respecting a candidate’s right to campaign is a fine of up to $2,000, imprisonment for a term of up to six months or both.

Democracy is fragile and must be protected. The Canada Elections Act is one tool to ensure that it is. If not everyone knows their rights, responsibilities and expectations during a federal election, candidates must. Democracy depends on it.

Williams Lake Tribune

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