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

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has been retained to represent 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 Andrew on Friday October 4, that he could not participate in the Monday October 7 leaders’ election debate, or in the media scrum to follow, allegedly because they were engaged in “advocacy.”

This term was not defined and seemed 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.” True North and Lawton applied for an emergency Order on the afternoon of the debate, to be granted the right to attend the media scrum following the debate.

Justice Russel Zinn of Toronto Federal Court, in detailed written reasons, 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 Debates Commission has filed a motion to strike the application of True North and Lawton, on the basis that it is moot (there are no issues left to argue). The Justice Centre has filed a response to that motion, and has brought its own motion on behalf of True North and Andrew, seeking leave of the Court to amend their judicial review application.

The Justice Centre will ask the Federal Court for a declaration that the Debates Commission’s decision was a breach of True North’s and Andrew Lawton’s Charter-guaranteed freedom of the press.

The Justice Centre says in its proposed amended application that “permitting government to restrict members of the media based on their perceived motive for gathering and disseminating information, as was done in this case, is too subjective and arbitrary.”

The motions will be heard in Federal Court in Toronto on May 13, 2020.

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