(Ottawa) Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault must unblock Rebel News founder Ezra Levant from X, formerly known as Twitter, according to a court order.
The order issued by Justice Russell Zinn of the Federal Court ends an action brought by Mr. Levant two years ago, claiming that the Liberal minister violated his constitutional rights by blocking him on the social network.
Mr. Levant argued that his inability to see or respond to Mr. Guilbeault’s messages on the platform limited his ability to engage in debate on matters of public interest.
Attorneys handling the case wrote to Judge Zinn on September 7 to consent to an order that would resolve the case.
The order states that the parties acknowledge that Mr. Guilbeault and the federal government “neither admit nor deny, in fact, any responsibility for the allegations made in the application.”
However, under this order, the minister must ensure that his account
The court also ordered the government to pay $20,000 for Rebel News’ legal costs.
The issue in this case was whether Minister Guilbeault’s X account should be considered a personal social media account or an official government account.
In an affidavit filed with the court, Tracey Headley, head of the Treasury Board Secretariat, said Service Canada confirmed the account in question was not an official Government of Canada social media account.
Mr. Levant argued in the initial notice of motion to the court that Mr. Guilbeault’s account had all the attributes of an official account managed by the state, adding that its content was public in nature.
The opinion states that freedom of expression protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes the derivative right to access government information when necessary to express oneself meaningfully about the operation of government.
A federal file in this affair points out that in various messages on Twitter, while Mr. Guilbeault was Minister of Canadian Heritage, Mr. Levant had called him a “crazy,” a “thug” and possibly “the stupidest minister in the world.” ‘Ottawa.’
Mr. Levant noted in his brief that Mr. Guilbeault chose to block him rather than use the social media platform’s less intrusive mute feature, which allows a user to delete a user’s posts. another user in their news feed without unfollowing or blocking this account.
Rebel News claims to have a generally conservative worldview, presenting the outlet as a proponent of freedom and an antidote to mainstream media.
On the Rebel News website, Mr. Levant said the outcome of the case was a blow to freedom of expression.
“This may seem trivial, but if Guilbeault can stop us from receiving news and other information from the government, what else can he cut us off? “, he mentioned.
Mr. Guilbeault’s office had no comment on the court order.
Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who has followed the case, says that even if the order does not confirm a constitutional right, it sends a strong signal about the state of the law.
“We know that government officials use these platforms all the time for official statements and primarily for government business, and this should be accessible to everyone,” Geist said in an interview. It should not be left to a minister or their staff to decide who has access to publicly available information on a particular platform. »
“I understand that there is abuse online that no one, minister or otherwise, should have to confront,” Geist continued. But given X’s mute feature, “I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify outright blocking of individuals,” he added.
The Treasury Board Secretariat had no immediate comment on the implications of the court order.