High-profile Canadian constitutional law and civil rights lawyer Clayton Ruby is representing white nationalist mayoral candidate Faith Goldy in a legal dispute with Bell Media.
“The purpose of the Press Conference is to announce and answer questions about a law suit (sic) against Bell Media inc. for an order compelling them to broadcast Faith Goldy’s electoral advertisement. The lawsuit is based on violation of Ms. Goldy’s constitutional right to freedom of expression during an election, breach of contract, and a violation of Regulations made under the Broadcasting Act, and the Television Broadcasting Regulations…” reads part of a press release from Ruby’s firm. Ruby and Goldy will be holding a press conference today at 11:30 a.m.
On September 26 Bell Media cancelled a $13,125 ad-buy from Goldy, a former Rebel Media personality who was fired year last by “Rebel Commander” and founder Ezra Levant after he learned she was a guest on a neo-Nazi podcast. The political ad was supposed to begin airing on Bell’s 24-hour news channel CP24 that Friday.
“From the release you posted she is seeking an injunction to require them to run her ad. It’s an unusual step but probably what I’d advise trying if I was anything but hostile to this white nationalist extremist,” wrote labour and employment lawyer Jack Siegel, who also specializes in election and political law and is a volunteer for Toronto Mayor John Tory’s re-election campaign.
“As for hate laws, I don’t think they can be generalized to silence a non-offensive ad,” says Siegel. “But I wish the Bell Media lawyers all the luck in the world.”
Bell Media representatives did not respond to requests for comment before publishing. Ruby and Goldy said they will speak after the press conference.
“I’m sorry, we’ll not be able to run the ads. We’re very sorry for the inconvenience and we’re going to refund your money by next week,” said a Bell ad sales representative, repeating himself several times when asked for a reason for the cancellation in a recorded conversation with Goldy she included in a YouTube video titled “ILLEGAL? Media BANS Our Paid Ads!” posted the day after the cancellation.
At the end of last week Goldy released a second video announcing she was suing Bell Media and “accepting donations from defenders of democracy worldwide.”
Municipal campaign finance laws forbid candidates from accepting funds outside of Ontario, but Goldy is raising funds for her legal fees through a different website than that of her campaign.
“It’s arguable either way. It strikes me as difficult but not impossible to successfully argue that the legal fees constitute a campaign expense, but as she uses the legal action to promote her candidacy, the chances improve,” says Siegel. He also believes Bell Media might be forced to run Goldy’s ad before the election ends if the injunction is “heard and and decided on an urgent basis sufficiently in advance of October 22.”
Any elector can request a compliance audit of a candidate’s finances who they suspect broke municipal finance laws. A controversial candidate like Goldy, who has many followers across the Western world and is collecting money through online means like e-transfers, will likely face.
In Goldy’s initial video, she raises what appears to be a legitimate claim of Bell violating CRTC guidelines by denying her ad space, which, she suggests, is tantamount to Bell breaking the law in order to censor her.
Her video highlights a couple sentences on the CRTC website’s lay explanation in regards to political paid advertising and coverage: “Broadcasters in Canada are expected to cover elections, and they must give all candidates, parties and issues equitable treatment. … If a broadcaster sells advertising time to one candidate or party, other candidates and parties must also be given the opportunity to buy commercial airtime from that same broadcaster.”
It’s unclear if any other mayoral candidates have bought CP24 ad spots this election, which would, in theory, then require CP24 to sell Goldy ad spots as well, under the Broadcasting Act. Typically, with mayoral warchests smaller than in provincial and federal races, candidates with enough fundraising money don’t release TV ads until October, in order to have maximum impact in the lead-up to the vote. Bell Media representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment on this story, including whether or not other mayoral candidates have bought ads with CP24, but a search of the website and 24-hour news channel yielded no cases of mayoral ads up yet.
“Assuming that other candidates have paid for advertising on Bell Media stations, then she seems to have a reasonable complaint that refusing to air her ad arguably violates those guidelines,” wrote Toronto media lawyer Iain MacKinnon back when Goldy’s ad was initially cacelled by Bell. “The problem is that they are only guidelines and don’t have the force of a statute or regulation. Broadcasters don’t have to strictly comply with the wording of those guidelines because they are simply guidelines. Although the Television Broadcasting Regulations, 1987 state that licensed broadcasters shall allocate advertising time on an equitable basis to all candidates, there is room for interpretation about what constitutes ‘equitable’ treatment. The guidelines note that, “‘equitable’ does not necessarily mean ‘equal,’ but, generally, all candidates and parties are entitled to some coverage that will give them the opportunity to expose their ideas to the public.
“So Bell Media may try to rely on the fact that they are giving Goldy an opportunity to expose her ideas to the public in other ways, such as news coverage. In short, Bell’s refusal to run her ad does not appear to be a violation of any ‘laws’ per se, but may violate the guidelines, which don’t have the same force of a law.”
“If there’s a reason for withholding the ads from broadcast because of questions around hate speech or violent provocation or things like that,” wrote civil rights lawyer Hugh Scher back in September, “that’s a balance that needs to be run by them to get a sense whether or not there’s a breach of some constitutional issue and how that weighs in terms of a freedom of speech type of claim.”
Although there’s no hate speech in her ad’s script, her campaign website lays out a platform that includes singling out Toronto Muslim communities, targeting them for “audits” looking at “Islamic extremism”. Her platform also calls for the evacuation of “all illegal migrants” to send them “by bus to the Prime Minister’s official residence, or the nearest jurisdiction that will take them.”
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network, founded by executive director and former CANADALAND contributor Evan Balgord, began a campaign on September 24 to apply public pressure on Bell to rescind the ad-buy with Goldy, who has a history of saying incendiary things such as calling for NATO troops to fire grenades at refugee and migrant ships entering European harbours.
“The campaign from our end involved a letter from us to Bell Media and CP24 … and, on the 25th, a promoted Facebook post from our page, which inspired a bunch of other posts, shares etc. asking people to call and email Bell Media. It quickly expanded organically with a lot of people indicating they reached out to Bell,” said Balgord, who worked for Tory as his deputy director in the 2014 mayoral race and a special assistant for eight months afterwards but is “not involved with his current campaign in any capacity, which Goldy may allege.”
Goldy’s first video speculates that Tory was behind the cancellation of her ads, but only provides circumstantial evidence showing his political ties to Bell.
“It’s a big win for the whole community and it’s great Bell did the right thing,” said Balgord shortly after the telecommunication company cancelled her ad-buy.