Press release no 13 - General Elections of March 26, 2007 - The Chief Electoral Officer Clarifies His Position Regarding the Dissemination of Partisan Information on the Internet



    QUEBEC CITY, March 2 /CNW Telbec/ - The Chief Electoral Officer of
Québec, Me Marcel Blanchet, would like to clarify his position regarding the
dissemination of partisan information on the Internet in light of events that
occurred during the first week of the election period. Although the Chief
Electoral Officer has not received any complaint in this regard, a number of
situations were brought to his attention, thus leading him to clarify how the
Election Act can be applied to the new reality of the Internet.
    "It is obvious that financing rules must be respected since they are
geared at guaranteeing the equity of the election debate. However, the Chief
Electoral Officer is trying to apply the Act wisely without adopting a
coercive Big Brother approach, bearing in mind that freedom of speech is one
of our key values as individuals and as a society," explains Me Blanchet.

    Adapting the Act to Today's Reality

    Me Blanchet points out that the financing rules will be 30 years old this
year and that they were developed at a time when blogs or portals such as You
Tube were merely pipe dreams. One of the ways for the Chief Electoral Officer
to implement these rules is to find out how they can be applied, by analogy,
to new situations that arise on the Internet.
    The principles of equity that underlie the Election Act are expressed
through the notion of election expense. As a result, the fact that the
official agent is the only person who can authorize election expenses and the
fact that these expenses are limited tends to guarantee equality of
opportunities between parties and candidates during the election period.
    Having said this, the Act states that certain expenses such as expenses
incurred to hold meetings (such as "kitchen meetings"), are not election
expenses. By analogy, given that every situation has to be evaluated on its
merits, a blog can be categorized as a "virtual meeting" among a certain
number of Internet users. As a result, a blog shall not be considered as an
election expense.
    On the contrary, a message disseminated on the Internet that involves
design and production and that looks like an ad, could be considered as an
election expense if it directly promotes or opposes a candidate or party
during the election period. This could be the case with videos that are
broadcast, for example, on a portal such as You Tube. Each case is different
and must be assessed on its merits with the understanding that there is no
election expense if the creation of the message involves little or no cost.

    One Way to Respect the Law: Become a Private Intervenor

    Me Blanchet would also like to explain that certain little-used
provisions of the Election Act offer a way out for internet users who would
like to use the Internet to make known their opinion on a topic of public
interest that is directly or indirectly related to the election debate. These
provisions concern the status of private intervenor. A good example is the
site Débatpourtous.net, whose authors have just obtained the status of private
intervenor from the Chief Electoral Officer.
    Pursuant to the Election Act, an elector or a group of electors that is
not a legal entity can incur publicity expenses not exceeding $300 in an
electoral division. Such expenses must not be incurred to directly promote or
oppose a candidate or party, but they can be used to publicize an opinion on a
topic of public interest or get support for such an opinion. To obtain the
status of private intervenor, contact the returning officer of your electoral
division by March 13, 2007. More information about the status of private
intervenor is available on the site Web of the Chief Electoral Officer at:
www.electionsquebec.qc.ca.

    Not Acting as "Web Police"

    During his press briefing the day after the elections were called, the
Chief Electoral Officer clearly indicated that it was out of the question to
"create a Web police" to apply the Election Act. "Whatever the case,"
continues Me Blanchet, "the resources at our disposal do not allow us to
monitor and intervene on a consistent basis. That is why we will rely above
all, on cases that are brought to our attention in complaints," explained the
Chief Electoral Officer, "since our initial attitude is not to muzzle free
speech but to let electors express themselves on the Internet."
    -%SU: CPN
    -%RE: 1




For further information:

For further information: Denis Dion, Information Officer, (418) 644-3320
or 1 888 870-3320, ddion@dgeq.qc.ca

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Directeur général des élections

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