Directors of major press groups in Quebec are uniting their voices to ask François Legault’s government to amend Bill 57 on the security of elected officials.

First page of Bill 57.

In April, the Quebec government tabled a bill aimed at better protecting elected officials from threats and harassment. (Archive photo)

Photo: Radio-United States / Sylvain Roy Roussel

As leaders of Quebec’s main newsrooms, it is with great concern that we learned of Bill 57 on the security of elected officials, recently tabled by the Quebec government.

This bill has a very laudable objective: to protect provincial and municipal elected officials against threats, harassment and intimidation. However, to achieve this, the government is proposing to the National Assembly to adopt measures that compromise the freedom of expression of citizens and the media.

Freedom of expression is the foundation of our democratic institutions. The elected officials are chosen by the voters. They represent them and are accountable to them. Citizens therefore have the right to discuss the decisions made by their elected officials, or even to criticize them in public, rightly or wrongly. This right is recognized by the charters of rights and freedoms, both Quebec and Canadian, as well as by the Supreme Court.

In the eyes of elected officials, these criticisms can sometimes seem ill-founded or unfair. They may even be perceived as insistent or appear to take the form of fierce opposition campaigns organized by activist groups. As such, they can be disturbing for elected officials who devote themselves body and soul to the service of the State. They nonetheless remain legitimate and essential to the existence of a healthy democracy.

However, in its current form, Bill 57 gives the courts, at the request of an elected official or through the chief electoral officer or a municipality, the power to order a citizen or a media to stop spreading comments which unduly hinders the exercise of his functions or infringes his right to privacy.

The notion of undue hindrance to the exercise of functions is not defined. We can therefore guess to what extent it opens the door to a broad interpretation which would limit the freedom of expression of citizens and the media on matters of public interest. We can also imagine the temptation that certain elected officials might have to use it to gag those who challenge them. It is imperative that this bill be further defined and that robust definitions in accordance with our charters be inserted.

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As for the concept of invasion of privacy, it goes against a principle well recognized by the courts according to which the sphere of private life of an elected official is less broad than that of a so-called citizen. ordinary. This would therefore be a marked setback for freedom of expression.

We only have to think of the recent example of the actions taken by the municipality of Sainte-Pétronille, which tried to muzzle a media outlet and residents, to be convinced of the danger represented by Bill 57. This one would make life easier for elected officials and cities who would like to intimidate individuals and organizations who do not have the means to defend themselves. The mere existence of this new legislative tool could very well have a chilling effect on citizen and media speech.

We can understand that citizens and the media are sometimes considered as irritants or impediments to going in circles by elected officials, who would sometimes prefer not to have to answer more difficult questions or be held accountable for their decisions. But in several municipalities, they constitute the only counterweight to municipal councils and thus play an essential democratic role. It would be very tempting to use this new law to silence them.

As representatives of the media, we therefore invite the government to amend Bill 57 so that its content is consistent with the values ​​of our democratic society and respects freedom of expression. The health and vigor of our political debates depend on it.


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Basem Boshra first editor-in-chief, CBC News, Quebec

Xavier Brassard-Bédard general manager, TVA Nouvelles/LCN

François Cardinal associate editor and vice-president Information, The Press

Dany Doucet vice-president Media Information, QMI

Luce Julien Director General of Information, Société Radio-United States

Eric Trottier director, Cogeco News

Mathieu Turbide vice-president of digital content, Quebecor (QUB radio, 24 hours, QMI Agency)

Frédéric Vanasse Managing Director and Publisher, The U.S. Press

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