Andrew Lawton and True North Centre for Public Policy v. Canada (Leaders’ Debates Commission) and the Attorney General of Canada

The Justice Centre represents journalist Andrew Lawton and True North Centre for Public Policy (True North) as they continue their challenge of the federal Leaders’ Debates Commission’s last-minute decision to deny True North its media accreditation for the election debate last October. The Commission informed True North and Mr. Lawton on Friday October 4, 2019, that he could not attend the media scrum following the leaders’ election debate on Monday October 7th, allegedly because True North was engaged in “advocacy.”

This term was not defined and was arbitrary in nature since the Commission approved other media outlets that declare themselves to be advocates. In fact, on the Toronto Star’s own website, it states that the Star has “an ongoing commitment to investigating and advocating for social and economic justice.” Mr. Lawton and True North applied for an emergency court order on the afternoon of the debate, and were granted the right to attend as members of the press.

Justice Russel Zinn of the Federal Court of Canada, in detailed written reasons released the following month, described the Commission’s decision as “lacking in discernible rationality and logic” and “neither justified nor intelligible.” Although the Debates Commission initially filed a Notice of Appeal of the Order, it withdrew the appeal after reviewing Justice Zinn’s reasons.

The court application continues as Mr. Lawton and True North argue that the Commission’s initial exclusion violated their constitutional right to freedom of the press, an essential part of Canada’s free and democratic society that the Charter is meant to protect. The Commission filed a motion to strike the application of True North and Mr. Lawton, on the basis that it is moot (there are no issues left to argue) because the 2019 election is over, and it is therefore irrelevant whether or not it infringed True North’s and Mr. Lawton’s Charter rights.

The Justice Centre filed a response to that motion, and brought its own motion on behalf of True North and Mr. Lawton, seeking leave of the Court to amend the judicial review application (originally prepared by the law firm that argued the injunction) to seek this Charter declaration.

The motions were argued by a virtual hearing in the Federal Court on June 18, 2020, and a decision is pending.


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