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Justice Centre Sues Montreal public transit authority over censorship

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms today announced the filing of an application for judicial review against Montreal’s transit authority, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), which refused to post an advertisement criticizing a transit fee rate hike. The transit authority rejected the ad on the alleged basis that it “denigrates public transit”.

The Association pour le transport collectif de la Rive-Sud (the “Association”) is a non-profit organization of transit users whose goal is to propose solutions to improve the public transit system on the South Shore of Montreal. In early June, the Association proposed the following ad, which reports the price for transit tickets from Montréal ($3.50) and from the South Shore ($5.25), with the following comment (English translation): “Logical? Not to us. Let us denounce the rate hike imposed by ARTM”. The Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM) is the regional transit authority vested with planning powers over a vast area, notably the South Shore of Montréal.

On or about June 13, 2022, the Montreal public transit authority rejected the ad on the alleged ground that it (English translation) “denigrates public transit”.

This case bears a striking resemblance to Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority v. Canadian Federation of Students — British Columbia Component, 2009 SCC 31, a 2009 Supreme Court of Canada judgment in which it was held that the Vancouver public transit authority was bound by the Charter when making decisions respecting public display (e.g. ads on buses), and whose policy banning political advertisements was declared unconstitutional.

“It would seem that the Montreal public transit authority chose complacency for its partner organization, instead of acting in a fair and balanced manner,” says Samuel Bachand, attorney for the Association, and primary external counsel with the Justice Centre in the Province of Québec.

“This is a blatant violation of our freedom of expression. STM is hiding behind policies and contractual agreements in an attempt to avoid judicial scrutiny. Such superficial arguments will not hold water in a court of law,” adds Axel Fournier, spokesman for the Association.

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