Election commissioner reprimands Rebel Media over billboard
EDMONTON Alberta’s election commissioner is considering a $5,500 fine against Rebel Media for violating rules set out for third-party advertisers, a move Rebel founder Ezra Levant describes as “thuggish behaviour.”Election commissioner Lorne Gibson also recently fined the Canadian Taxpayers Federation $6,000 for failing to apply for registration as a third-party advertiser. The details of that investigation haven’t been released beyond a line item as an administrative penalty on the commissioner’s website.Levant, who tweeted about the commissioner’s decision Friday, slammed the province for what he characterized as censorship. The Rebel posted the commissioner’s letter and its lawyer’s response online.Gibson’s investigation related to a billboard put up near Innisfail on the Queen Elizabeth II Highway, with the message: “40% of Grade 9 students failed provincial exams — Alberta can do better than David Eggen. www.fireeggen.ca.”In a letter addressed to Levant and Rebel reporter Keean Beexte, Gibson said the organization engaged in political advertising because the ad opposed a member of the Legislative Assembly.Rebel Media incurred $2,370 in costs for the billboard, which was up from Nov. 23 to Nov. 30, said the letter.Gibson said the company is required to register as a third-party advertiser for billing itself as “a fearless source of news, opinion and activism,” purchasing ad space and hosting an online campaign targeting Eggen.The elections commissioner is an independent, non-partisan officer tasked with investigating and enforcing political fundraising and advertising rules. The position was created in 2017 and Gibson was sworn last Oct. 26.Rebel Media outlined its response to the penalty online under the headline “HELP: Rachel Notley is coming to kill The Rebel!”“It’s thuggish behaviour for politicians to censor the media,” Levant tweeted Friday.He also said the government “has convicted us of an offence without showing us the complaint or permitting us a reply.“The first fine is $5,500, climbing to $100,000,” he tweeted. “That would bankrupt us.”In a letter addressed to Gibson Friday, Rebel Media’s lawyer Fred Kozak said the organization wasn’t given a reasonable amount of time to respond to the allegations. The letter, shared by the organization online, said that The Rebel is filing an appeal to the Court of Queen’s Bench. Kozak’s firm, Reynolds, Mirth, Richards & Farmer, routinely represents many media outlets, including Postmedia.“It’s an unusual policy or procedure to say that information (the commissioner) has led him to the belief that the $5,500 fine is warranted,” said Kozak in an interview Friday. “We don’t know what that information is. He hasn’t provided it to us so it’s difficult for us to refute any of that.”He also said he can’t comment on the specifics of why Rebel Media doesn’t believe it violated political advertising rules.“Those details will emerge in the appeal,” he said."(Rebel Media) has certainly never been shy about controversy or about expressing their editorial views in strong terms.“Whether or not you agree with those views, stimulating some public debate on important issues should be encouraged rather than punished.”Neither Rebel Media nor the Canadian Taxpayers Federation responded to a request for comment by Postmedia on Friday.
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