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“The pen is mightier than most megaphones”

If you’ve ever wanted to give a piece of your mind to your MP, take heart in the fact you’re not a renegade. Freedom of expression is well founded in Canada and protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; however, does this freedom extend to public servants wishing to discuss public policy with their MP? Some employers (for example, the National Research Council (NRC)) take a negative view of this question, and have even gone so far as to prohibit employees from communicating to their MP about departmental issues.

That seems like a bit of a stretch to us in the Legal Corner, and the Supreme Court would have no qualms backing us up. In fact, the Supreme Court already dealt with this kind of issue in 1985, in a judgement known as Fraser. In Fraser, an employee of Revenue Canada was not terribly happy about, amongst other things, metrification (that is, converting measurements from imperial units to metric ones). The sticking point was that this employee’s criticism of Revenue Canada became overwhelmingly vocal, to the point of being publicly scathing - think street corners and soapboxes. The Supreme Court concluded he should have toned it down a bit, since freedom of expression by a public servant is not protected if it shakes Canadians’ confidence in their public services.

So let’s tie this back to the NRC’s new policy. Does writing a private, polite letter to an MP shake the public’s faith in the NRC? You don’t have to be a lawyer to realize that it doesn’t. The way the law is now, as long as one-on-one communication on policy issues between public servants and their MP is truthful and respectful, you’re golden. The Charter and the courts protect you, so correspond away! Just leave the soapbox at home.

Publish Date: 02-FEB-2016 02:08 PM