Canadian Communists win key court battle

VANCOUVER, Canada – Communist Party of Canada (CPC) leader Miguel Figueroa can finally breathe a sigh of relief. The Canadian Supreme Court on June 27 struck down parts of the Canada Elections Act, which deny small political parties the right to exist and participate in elections.

The Canadian Supreme Court ruled that Sections of the Canada Elections Act that deny political parties the right to appear on the ballot if they do not nominate at least 50 candidates unconstitutional and in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Similarly, the refusal to grant parties not meeting the 50-candidate threshold the right to issue tax receipts to donors to claim on their income tax or to keep unspent election funds “undermines the right of each citizen to meaningfully participate in the electoral process.” The Court has ordered Parliament to change the legislation within the next 12 months.

An ecstatic Figueroa welcomed the ruling. “We are, of course, elated with this decision. It stands as a vindication of the struggles our party has waged over this past decade, and, more importantly, as an affirmation of the rights of all smaller political parties in this country, and of the right of all Canadian citizens to freely choose their political preferences in elections.”

Since a Conservative Party government first introduced changes to the Elections Act in 1993 through Bill C-114, the CPC has waged a struggle against the federal government not only to retain its legal existence, but to overturn the legislation. The original Bill, among other things, gave the Canadian government the right to de-register parties not running 50 candidates in an election and then seize their assets. In the 1993 elections, the CPC nominated eight candidates and therefore was immediately deregistered and its assets seized. The Party only regained its legal registration in 2000 after running 51 candidates during the federal election.

Party Central Executive member Kimball Cariou told the World that 1993 “was a stressful period for our party.” The party’s leadership immediately formed a committee to defend the CPC and launched a campaign to change the legislation. The Committee challenged the legislation in the courts. However, it was a lonely, uphill battle for Canadian Communists. Other small parties, said Cariou, verbally supported the court challenge and appeared at a few jointly held press conferences, but did not offer to help sponsor or financially back the court action.

Gradually, lower courts struck down the most insidious aspects of Bill C-114: the mandatory seizure of the assets of federal parties that lose their registered status; the loss of the $1,000 deposits that candidates must put up; the inability of non-registered parties to have their name on the ballot.

The June 27 Supreme Court ruling stems from the federal government’s appeal of a previous decision by an Ontario court which reduced from 50 to 2 the number of candidates required to achieve registered party status and related benefits. The CPC appealed this judgement to the Supreme Court.

Figueroa said that the court decision, “is a significant victory for democracy, but it is one battle among many which must be fought to defend and extend democratic rights in Canada.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org