Focus On

Powers of municipality - Constitutional issues - Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - Freedom of expression s. 2(b) - Services and utilities

Thursday, January 26, 2017 @ 7:00 PM  

Application by the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform for judicial review of a decision by the City of Grande Prairie. The applicant was a non-profit organization that disseminated pro-life and anti-abortion literature to the public. The applicant applied to post an advertisement on the exterior of City buses. The advertisement included images of fetuses, a corresponding development timeline, and a statement that abortion killed children. The City’s transit authority rejected the proposed advertisement. Thereafter, the City determined that the proposed advertisement violated the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards and it was thus obliged to deny the proposed advertisement under a newly adopted municipal advertising policy. The applicant sought judicial review on the basis the City’s decision infringed its freedom of expression protected by s. 2(b) of the Charter.

HELD: Application dismissed. Although the City’s advertising policy provided valuable perspective, the judicial review was limited to the City’s initial refusal decision. The City’s decision to refuse the applicant’s advertisement was reasonable. The statutory objective of controlling the content of advertising on City buses was to provide a safe and welcoming transit system, as part of the municipality’s responsibility to provide services and develop and maintain a safe and viable community. There were limits to freedom of expression to protect the public, including children, from what many viewed as disturbing expression in public spaces. To the extent the City infringed the applicant’s freedom of expression, that infringement was limited to rejection of a particular advertisement that was likely to cause psychological harm to those who had had or were considering an abortion, and confusion among children unable to understand the advertisement’s message. Nothing precluded the applicant from bringing forward a different advertisement. The decision to refuse the applicant’s advertisement fell within the range of reasonable, acceptable outcomes that proportionately balanced the Charter values at stake with the City’s statutory objective. Similarly, the City’s decision was reasonable from an administrative law perspective.