Media releases | April 15, 2012

Public Interest Alberta told to cease and desist ‘political advertising’

EDMONTON Representatives of Public Interest Alberta (PIA) strongly condemned a recent move by Elections Alberta telling the organization to “cease and desist” making statements on the PIA website, which were deemed to violate Alberta’s new legislation on third-party advertising in election campaigns.“There is a need for some controls on third-party advertising, but this situation clearly shows that the new rules have opened the door to substantial infringements on civil liberties and rights to freedom of expression,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon, PIA’s Executive Director.“According to the letter PIA received from Elections Alberta, PIA ‘is operating a website that is making statements that may be construed as taking a position on an issue with which a registered political party or a registered candidate is associated during the current Provincial General Election,’” said Moore-Kilgannon. “Anyone who looks at our website can see that we are not advertising, and we are not supporting any party or candidate; we have simply raised issues and called on citizens to ask questions about important public interest issues such as education, poverty and seniors care. So we demand to know why Elections Alberta has sent us this letter and which political party has filed the complaint against us.”PIA Board Chair Larry Booi said that the Elections Alberta action is “beyond heavy-handed – it is a clear affront to democracy, and one that should provoke a strong reaction from Alberta citizens.” Booi stated that the law as it is currently written opens the door to shutting down legitimate discussion and advocacy: “Let’s be clear -we are not talking about an advertising campaign here. This a website operated by a small non-partisan organization. It seems clear from Elections Alberta letter that we are no longer free as civil society organizations to take public positions on issues that any candidate or party has taken a position on. This crosses a line into very dangerous territory, and it should be utterly unacceptable to Albertans, regardless of their political orientations.”Booi suggested that the public needs to consider what is at stake in this situation: “Strong democracy is based in the end on citizen engagement, and on a robust discussion of issues and alternatives, especially at election time. If PIA cannot run a website where principles, issues and alternatives are promoted, then charter rights to free expression and democracy itself are undermined. ”Moore-Kilgannon stated that PIA has written to Elections Alberta to state that it does not believe it is engaged in political advertising, and that PIA has no plans to shut down its website, which is at www.pialberta.org. “We want to be very clear that we certainly will not 'cease and desist' when it comes to speaking out on important public issues that affect the lives of Albertans.” -30- Media Contacts: Bill Moore-Kilgannon 780 420-0471, cell 780 993-3736Larry Booi 780 433-2667   

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