Bloggers flout law

Janice Neil

Janice NeilA
handful of bloggers and Twittering fingers couldn’t break
their habit on election night, in the face of a law that essentially
prohibits publication of polls results on the internet before 10 pm ET.

the mainstream media said they did their best to obey the Elections
Canada gag law that prevents broadcasting or publishing online results
to regions before the polls have closed there, citizen bloggers
couldn’t resist reporting on the earliest ballot counts from
the east.

The Supreme Court of Canada upheld Section 329
of the Canada Elections Act last year, that imposes a blackout to try
to prevent the posted results in the eastern time zones from
influencing voters in the West.

earliest postings I found purportedly came from bloggers overseas. The
first, from a Canadian living in the UK, called “The Surley Beaver”,
announced at 8 pm ET, when the polls closed, that he would be
“getting results from the east emailed to him and posting
live.” Within 28 minutes, a B.C. man who said he’s
living and working in Hawaii, posted on
an hour-and-a-half before the media blackout would be lifted. Brad
Cavanagh reported “CBC is reporting that the Conservatives
have lost their three seats in Newfoundland-Labrador. Peter MacKay has
won Central Nova, beating Green Party leader Elizabeth May.”

Within minutes, results popped up on another site, A Newfoundland Observer,
a two-year-old current events blog by Charles Cheeseman, in St.
John’s.  In between posting election results and
comments from readers, the self-described 
“Newfoundland Observer” said in an email that he
didn’t plan on posting live results at all.  But
once the polls closed, in Newfoundland, he noticed people searching
Google for results and ending up on his site. One reader in Ontario
asked him for results, so,  “as a favour, I
responded by email and gave him an update from CBC or CTV. I did this 3
or 4 times,” he said, then took it public, to his blog.
“It was a rare opportunity to provide information for a brief
time using a technology I did not grow up with – very

dismissed concerns about the gag law (with fines up to $25,000),
seeking comfort in the number of bloggers. “I am not coaxing
people to see my information. In fact, my intended audience could only
have been fellow Newfoundlanders or Labradorians, but outsiders saw
it,” he explained.  (A B.C. software developer, Paul
Bryan, was fined $1,000 for posting results
before the polls closed, in
the 2000 election.)

There was perhaps more reluctance to post on the instant and public message site, Twitter,
as only a couple of regular contributors posted almost-cryptic messages
on polls results. One contributor even issued a warning about the law.
At 9:12 pm ET, 48 minutes before the blackout would be lifted, a poster
identified as “saleemkhan” said 
“Those prosecuted for violating Election Act s.329 for
transmitting results before polls close may care”, a link to the pertinent section for the Elections Canada Act.

That didn’t deter one Twitter-hungry poster, identified by as The Globe and Mail’s
technology journalist, Matthew Ingram, who posted the daring:
“I’m going to violate Canada’s election law and let you know
that early results show the “keep everything the same” party

The community of the daring also included a well-established environmental website based in the U.S., website
At least 30-minutes before the blackout was lifted, it plunged in,
“We are live-blogging the election results as they roll
across the country…Results from Quebec and Ontario beginning
to dribble in. Time for a shot of Newfie Screech.”

it seems many Canadians are not content to be informed about the poll
results as if the internet had never been invented. One reader,
identified as “SwimmingOil”, appreciatively told
Newfoundland’s Cheeseman, “Thanks for this from all
us political junkies out west here.”

belief –upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada –
that knowing how some Canadians voted before you went to the polls,
offended some people leaving comments at the
site today. Brad Reddekopp wrote: ”The law is simply
obsolete. To try to enforce it on the Internet is stupid at best and
excessively repressive (i.e. evil) at worst. It’s gone so let it
go.” Another, Jed400ex wrote: “I doubt that the
number of people that would actually watch their TV set and change
their vote based on results in the East is a small number and is not
worth having a blackout. Social networking sites have made the blackout
obsolete… so either turn all polls in at the same time or just cancel
this blackout… it’s dumb.”

Janice Neil is Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism at Ryerson University and Ideas editor of J-Source.