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BC spent nearly $650,000 defending gags on election advertising

Between 2008 and 2012 the British Columbia government spent $647,219.86 on legal fees related to its so-called "gag laws" on third party advertising.

"What a waste of money," said Jordan Bateman, the B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. "There are better ways you could spend that money than trying to curb free speech."

The figure, from the response to a request made under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, is for Jan. 1, 2008 to Oct. 9, 2012 and includes "Legal Services Branch Costs related to Election Act Amendments related to Third Party Advertising."

It is unclear from the response what exactly is included. The province passed laws to restrict third party advertising in 2008 which the Supreme Court of B.C. struck down in 2009 following a challenge from unions including the BC Teachers' Federation and the BC Nurses' Union.

After losing appeals of the ruling, the government introduced new rules redefining third party advertising and restricting it for 40 days before a campaign period, but the Court of Appeal rejected the government's changes.

Much of the government's spending would have been to defend the challenges to the law, said Vincent Gogolek, the executive director of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. "In terms of the government spending money, they have to defend the legislation they passed. It costs what it costs, I guess."

FIPA is now in court with the government challenging the fact election advertising sponsors need to register even if they are spending no money. "It would have been easier to fix the damn law, in our case," said Gogolek.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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