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VICTORIA – The B.C. government’s pre-election gag law takes effect tomorrow. A group of unions including CUPE BC ran ads in newspapers across B.C. today to publicize the impact of this attack on free speech.

Under the headline, “As of tomorrow Gordon Campbell wants you to just shut up,” the ads detail the groups under attack, including seniors, students, children, patients, resource communities, working families, women and the vulnerable. The law restricts ads on the full spectrum of social and economic issues including homelessness, the environment, budget cuts, Olympic cost overruns and the failure of P3s.

CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill called the law shameful. “We’re not going to ‘just shut up’ like the government wants us to,” he said. “As CUPE members, there are 75,000 of us in B.C., and we deserve a voice.”

Bill 42, passed last fall as part of the Election Amendment Act, restricts pre-election advertising by groups other than political parties. Anyone who wants to advertise about an issue that could be construed as political in the 3-months leading up to the May 12 provincial election must now register with the Chief Electoral Officer as a “sponsor” of election advertising. Penalties for contravening the law are severe. The effect is to stifle dissent and hamper organizations that disagree with the BC Liberal government.

CUPE BC and several other unions have challenged Bill 42 in the courts but a decision is not expected until after the May 12 election.

The Trial Lawyers Association of BC ran ads today warning “First they take away your free speech - then they take away your day in court.” Association president Robert Holmes said that “Fundamental rights and freedoms must be respected, including freedom of expression and the right to access the courts. Both are essential to a democracy. Regrettably, the provincial government has taken steps that are laying siege to those values.”

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said that “Campbell doesn’t want the public to know the truth about his abandonment of our forest industry, problems in health care and education or the hidden costs to taxpayers of privatization and P3s.”