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Ford government's anti-carbon tax stickers ruled unconstitutional

Last Updated Sep 4, 2020 at 6:49 pm EST

A gas station owner is seen applying the anti-carbon tax stickers to the gas pumps which has been mandated by the Ford government. Stations that don't comply risk hefty fines. CITYNEWS/Cynthia Mulligan

An Ontario law forcing gas stations to display stickers showing the cost of federal carbon pricing has been ruled unconstitutional.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward M. Morgan ruled the legislation, which was enacted as part of a dispute over Ottawa’s carbon pricing plan in 2019, violated free speech provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association challenged the legislation, and the court agreed with their assertion that the stickers were a “compelled political message.”

The Ford government brought in the legislation in August 2019 as part of its failed legal battle with Ottawa over carbon pricing. Retailers who failed to do so risked fines of between $5,000 and $10,000 a day.

“A government or political party can, in the words of Ontario’s minister of energy, ‘stick it to’ another tier of government or political party as a matter of free speech in an election campaign or otherwise,” Morgan wrote in his decision, which was released Friday afternoon.

“A government cannot legislate a requirement that private retailers post a sticker designed to accomplish that task. The mandatory fuel pump sticker is an unconstitutional attempt to do just that.”

Morgan says gasoline stations are at liberty to keep the stickers on their pumps or “remove them as they see fit.”

Morgan said in the decision that the message was “blatantly advantage-seeking by a political party and a misuse of a governing party’s legislative power.”

He pointed to a statement Energy Minister Greg Rickford made in April 2019 in which he said the province would “stick it to the Liberals and remind the people of Ontario how much this job-killing, regressive carbon tax costs.” That, said Morgan, shows the true purpose of the sticker was partisan.

Rickford said he respects the court decision, “but our government will always stand up for the people of Ontario when it comes to matters that make everyday life more expensive for hardworking families.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General declined to comment, saying the department is reviewing the decision.

“As this matter is still in the appeal period, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further,” Brian Gray said.

NDP Opposition Energy critic Peter Tabuns called on the Ford government not to waste more money on an appeal.

“He (Ford) has already wasted enough of people’s money on his anti-carbon price stickers that don’t stick – a partisan and dishonest propaganda campaign,” Tabuns said in a statement. “Appealing this Superior Court decision would be another waste of money, another attack on Ontario’s environment, and another attack on people’s constitutional rights.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which brought the challenge, is thrilled, according to the director of its fundamental freedoms program.

“CCLA is very pleased that the Court recognized these stickers for what they are, an attempt to compel private entities to convey a government’s partisan political message,” Cara Zwibel said in a statement.

Ontario has challenged Ottawa’s right to impose a carbon tax, and the Supreme Court is set to hear that case in September.

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report

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