August 22, 2019 4:00 pm
Updated: August 24, 2019 12:08 am

Scientists call on Elections Canada to clarify policy on climate change advertising

WATCH ABOVE: Elections Canada says environmental groups can advertise about climate change during the federal election

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A group of more than 350 Canadian scientists have penned an open letter following an uproar over whether advertising on climate change should be subject to Elections Canada rules.

READ MORE: Why Canadian politicians spar over so-called ‘facts’ — and how to keep track of the truth

The signatories said they were profoundly concerned after Elections Canada warned environmental groups that launching campaigns on the perils of climate change during the fall federal vote could potentially require them to register as third-party advertisers.

The scientists are calling on the agency to clarify how it interprets issue-based advertising rules in the Canada Elections Act so that groups can communicate on climate change without having to register.

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One of the signatories, Christopher Lyon of the University of Leeds, said in a statement that the registration process may “stifle evidence-based discussion” during the election. He said that a “chilling precedent” has been set.

Elections Canada issued a statement Tuesday explaining that the legislation doesn’t prevent anyone from discussing issues.

READ MORE: Discussing climate change during the election could be deemed partisan activity — Elections Canada

If groups spend $500 or more on certain activities, they will need to register as third parties with Elections Canada and submit reports, the statement said. They will also face a spending limit of $511,700.

Elections Canada said that the policy on issue-based advertising “leads to increased transparency” and only applies in cases where the issue is “clearly associated with a candidate or party.”

The Act applies regardless of whether a candidate or party is mentioned.

The scientists argued that in describing climate change as an issue under which regulation may be required, the subject is being framed as a debate despite scientific consensus on the crisis.

WATCH: Elections Canada warns environmental groups about making climate statements

“The weight of scientific evidence and consistent cross-party political support for major international climate efforts makes absolutely clear that the existence of climate change is not up for debate,” said Marie Claire Brisbois of the University of Sussex.

Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault said that the Canada Elections Act “doesn’t speak to the substance of potential third party issue advertising, nor does it make a distinction between facts and opinion.”

READ MORE: Elections Canada slammed after warning groups climate change may be ‘partisan’ issue

“It is not Elections Canada’s role to make that distinction, no matter how obvious it may appear.”

The controversy was sparked by a report from the Canadian Press over the weekend.

The outlet reported that one advocacy group, Environmental Defence, said an Elections Canada official explained during a training session that groups that communicate on the dangers of global warming could potentially be deemed partisan because People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier has made skeptical statements about the subject.

The letter was signed by 352 researchers working in Canada and abroad.

—With files from the Canadian Press

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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