Canadians Face Fines & Jail Time If They Tweet Election Result News Prior To West Coast Poll Closings

from the dumb-laws dept

Jay Rosen points us to the absurd news that laws on the books in Canada bar Canadian citizens on Twitter and Facebook from mentioning election results from east coast polling stations until all polling stations across the country have closed. The law is based on the idea that folks on the west coast could be “influenced” by results on the east coast. Is there any proof that this is true? No. It was originally written to try to stop national news organizations from reporting east coast results while west coast polls were still open, but in an age where everyone is the media, it appears to apply to Twitter and Facebook updates as well. The article notes that a blogger (who had a very small audience) was fined for posting election results on his blog after the 2000 elections. What’s really scary is that people could face jailtime for such Tweets or status updates. As the article notes, this law is silly, impractical and pointless. And yet, Elections Canada insists it “has to” enforce the law:

“The legislation is still on the books, so our role as Elections Canada is to administer the legislation that is before us,” says Enright. “If there’s a breach of the law, Elections Canada is not going to discriminate between the Mothercorp and Joe Smith down the street.”

Amazingly, the article also points out that back when that blogger was charged under this law, one of the most outspoken critics of the lawsuit was one Stephen Harper:

“These jackasses at Elections Canada are out of control,” said the NCC president, one Stephen Harper, at the time. “The government’s law is outdated and just plain wrong.”

Harper, of course, is the incumbent Prime Minister now… but did nothing while in office to fix this law.

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Comments on “Canadians Face Fines & Jail Time If They Tweet Election Result News Prior To West Coast Poll Closings”

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Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: One simple solution

Your logic is sound, but I can’t even get to that point. I simply can’t get past the voices in my head screaming, “Why the fuck do you care about this crap, you idiots!!!???”

Are western Canadian voters so fragile in their convictions that they’ll vote based on what their east coast bretheren have done? Are Cannucks fans rushing to the polls with the kind of herd mentality that apparently resulted in record breaking viewership for 2 and a half Men?

Oh, and the Sedin brothers suck too….

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re: One simple solution

First, this is all hearsay and I have not seen actual data, but this is my understanding from US elections:

The issue is not that people will necessarily change their vote, but that some statistically significant portion of west coast voters will not bother to go to the polls in some situations such as an obvious landslide election. They feel their vote doesn’t matter because their candidate has already lost (or won) the presidency. And while this doesn’t end up mattering to who becomes president, it can effect other races, like governors/senators/representatives.

I don’t know how that translates into the Canadian election process.

All that being said, it probably is still a stupid law.

Thomas Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: One simple solution

Yes people’s opinions are that easily swayed, it’s a known fact about people in general I don’t think it’s really necessary to do a study specifically with respect to elections.

We know people will regard things the perceive as popular more favorably that then would otherwise, and it’s fairly obvious there’s a strong possibility early results could influence people who are on the fence.

I don’t have any specific studies to reference with respect to people’s decision making so maybe someone with better research skills could go looking for one that talks about this sort of thing.

Andy (profile) says:

Re: One simple solution

This would be one solution, for sure. But what I can’t get my head around, is how they would plan to handle the possibility that someone could pass the information to a friend outside Canadian jurisdiction who might then publish the information.

Or maybe it is not what the law says that they are concerned about, merely that here is a law so it has to be enforced. Wonder how many other outdated laws are on the books that they do not enforce, though.

Chris says:

makes sense to me...

You don’t have to be weak minded to be influenced by how half the country has already voted. I think everyone in the country should enter the booth with no knowledge of how the election might turnout. If you already knew some of the outcomes, or near outcomes, you might not even go vote, thinking your vote doesn’t count. That’s not good. They’re trying to do things right, up there in Canadia. Maybe a better way, as suggested above, is to wait to release poll results. My suggestion is to have the polls open and close at the same moment across the nation – but late enough into the evening on the west coast for people to have time to get there after work.

freak (profile) says:

The law is silly for quite a few reasons.

One? Just watch tv from a station to the east of you before you go vote.

Newfoundlanders, for example, always get the results in realtime throughout election night.
Oh, hey, people with satellite TV can watch NTV, and get the results anyways.

But, they are perfectly correct in that it will change how people vote; It usually notably effects Alberta, wherein people might vote for a local liberal party member because they like his policies, (not so much the party’s), but as a result of seeing the conservatives gain less seats than expected, vote for the local conservative member instead.

There are several less stupid solutions that will fix this. For example, close the polls across Canada at the same time. That means they’ll be open another 4 & 1/2 hours in Newfoundland, but is that going to make a difference, really?

I’ll note that counting the votes later won’t work for the purposes of this law. The media can still wait outside and do random polling, thus giving a good idea of who won which ridings anyways.

Meanwhile, that sounds to me like typical conservative behaviour; Complain about something when you aren’t in power, let it be forgotten when you are in power because it actually probably benefits you.

Chris says:

Both major Canadian TV networks, CTV and the CBC requested this be changed but were unsuccessful. It was pointed out that preventing people from sharing early polling information via Twitter and Facebook would be nearly impossible to stop. Elections Canada was also asked, that in lieu of this regulation be changed, that election results for the whole country be released at the same time. IOW, East Coast results wouldn’t be released until Polls close in the West. Elections Canada denied this request as well.

Personally, the latter seems like the best solution. Don’t release results until all polls have closed.

Eo Nomine says:

“Harper, of course, is the incumbent Prime Minister now… but did nothing while in office to fix this law.”

Yes, I’m sure that was his number one priority when he was elected. Sorry, but if this was such an urgent priority, where were all the constitutional challenges to the law before now? The reason why the challenge brought by CBC and CTV failed was not because their argument that this law violates s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was without merit, but because the court determined that it couldn’t hear a decision of this importance in the expedited timeframe the broadcasters were asking for, and roundly criticized the broadcasters for having waited until an actual election campaign before bringing the challenge. The full case is here:

“Less information is NEVER the answer…”

So you oppose insider trading laws? Chris is right; this is about information asymmetry, and the fact that one part of the country can get access to election information that another part does not, and the detrimental impact that has on voting. Much as insider trading has a detrimental impact on the market.

Griff (profile) says:

So easy to fix

As many have said, rather than try to ban the transfer of info that is in the public domain already, just don’t release it.

But on commenter suggests that the problem still remains with exit polling.

But it does in any election. Early exit polling can influence late voters.
Though only a terribly biased TV station could convince a sane person of the result based on early exit polls, and if they take their cue from such a station, all is lost anyway surely ?

Worries about information asymmetry would prohibit publication of exit poll results.

I’m sure in the UK the exit polls used for the pundit shows on election night are kept under wraps until the last voter votes. Same rules would apply to multi timezone voting, surely ?

Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile) says:

Precincts Reported

Are all the precincts in the east time zone reported within three hours after closing? I know some precincts report faster than others but I haven’t seen complete election results pop up in less than two hours after closing. Here it seems that balloting closes at 8pm and they don’t have half the results by 11pm.


as a canadian ill tell you why this exists and why it needs stay.

In past when some times results got out it affected other regions voting. THUS to remain fair and impartial you dont post results, go ahead and look if you want if you can find em.

What i say as a solution is to keep all the ballet boxes closed and then count when last one in bc is finished.

IT’S CALLED…. fairness and its conservatives that are doing this cause we know how they cheated in 2006 with the in and out scam with 2 mps charged with fraud , 2 senators ( who ran back then ) also charged with fraud and 67 other mps under investigation.

AND who is tough on crime? Just ask a guy named carson about his 5 fraud convictions and how he became chief of staff for the prime minister.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mike,I always loved your twisted logic. This one especially. Wait, let the fanboys prepare to call me a troll because I disagree… ready now? Ok.

this law is silly, impractical and pointless. And yet, Elections Canada insists it “has to” enforce the law.

And that’s wrong because? Because the law is stupid? Why don’t you look at your own ridiculously large list of stupid American laws. You’re unhappy they enforce a stupid law? You guys enforce about a thousand more. Plus, the law’s the law. But according to the All-Mighty-And_never-Wrong Mike, they should just ignore it… you know, because stupid people will still blatantly ignore it and willingly get fines.

Fanboys: Go!

z says:

Back off non-Canadian

jurisdiction – why do you feel the need to threaten to violate the results of an election in another country simply because you do not agree with some of it’s citizens upholding a law that protects our election process. I do realize many americans tend to think like that, but must you? No one says you have to agree with it, but unless you’re gunning for a job on RedEye, maybe you should cool it.

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