Election blackout renegades could dodge prosecution

Elections officials will investigate people who illegally publicized early vote results only if they receive a written complaint.

Elections officials will investigate people who illegally publicized early vote results only if they receive a written complaint.

Blogs, social networking sites and some TV broadcasts on satellite were transmitting results from Atlantic Canada in Tuesday's federal election long before the last polls closed in British Columbia and the Yukon.

Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act forbids the transmission of results from any area where polls have closed to electoral districts where voting is still open.

The law, created in 1938, is designed to prevent results from influencing those who have yet to cast a ballot.

But people had posted comments on websites including Twitter and Facebook about Eastern election results as Western Canadians were still voting.

Elections Canada will look into any alleged violations of Section 329 if it receives a written complaint, said John Enright, a spokesman for Elections Canada.

The agency will not confirm or deny if a complaint has been received until the Commissioner of Canada Elections concludes there has been a breach, he added.

The maximum penalty for violating the blackout is a fine of $25,000.

Switching problem blamed for B.C. broadcast error

Local media outlets are allowed to broadcast in their own time zone once polls are closed there, as long as it's not being transmitted to other areas where voting is still going on, explained Enright.

But he said internet broadcasts and websites that can be accessed across the country are not allowed to report results until all polls are closed.

Some television viewers told CBC News that they could see results from other regions via local cable and satellite signals despite the prohibition.

In B.C., CBC Newsworld began showing early results at 6:30 p.m. PT — half an hour before the polls closed in that province. Viewers there saw the beginning of Green Party Leader Elizabeth May's concession speech before the signal was frozen six minutes later.

"Our understanding is it was a switching error," said CBC spokesman Jeff Keay.

But the number of incidents breaking the blackout just shows that the law is outdated, said Peter Coleman, president and CEO of the National Citizens Coalition.

"Are you going to fine the TV stations for that human-error mistake?" he wondered.

"I just don't think it serves any purpose in today's technological environment," he said on Wednesday. "It's not stopping anything anyway."

Unsuccessful challenge of blackout law

The group backed a court challenge by Paul Bryan, a software developer from B.C., who purposely posted early election results in 2000 on his website.

Bryan argued the ban violated the Charter of Rights' guarantee of freedom of expression and of political association. He also said modern technology including the internet rendered the blackout obsolete.

As a private citizen, Stephen Harper voiced support for Bryan's case in 2001, but has offered little comment since taking office.

Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the blackout law.

Coleman estimated the legal challenge cost upwards of $100,000.