Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has been ordered by a Federal Court judge to unblock Ezra Levant, founder of Rebel News, from his X account, according to CBC News.
Under the terms of a federal court order, Guilbeault cannot block Levant from his X account (formerly Twitter) for as long as he remains a member of Parliament, ruled Justice Russel Zinn.
“It might sound like a small thing, but if Guilbeault can cut us off from receiving news and other information from the government, what else can he cut off?” wrote Levant on his Rebel News website.
Justice Zinn also ordered the federal government to reimburse Rebel Media’s legal fees, to the tune of $20,000 dollars.
Levant initially filed action against Guilbeault two years ago, alleging that the Liberal minister’s block was in violation of his constitutional rights.
By Guilbeault blocking him from seeing posts on his account, Levant argued, his ability to view and engage with issues of public concern were limited.
On Sept. 7, lawyers in the case agreed to an order acknowledging that Guilbeault and the federal government “do not admit and in fact deny any liability in respect of the allegations made in the application,” however they agreed that Guilbeault must unblock Levant immediately until a time when his account is only for personal use as a private citizen.
The main issue in the case was whether or not Guilbeault’s X account was an official government account or a personal social media account.
Treasury Board Secretariat official Tracey Headley filed an affidavit with the court claiming that Service Canada said Guilbeault’s account was not an official social media account of the Government of Canada.
Levant however, argued that the account operated and looked exactly like an official Government of Canada social media account, claiming that the account’s content was public in nature.
The court concluded that one’s freedom of expression does in fact include the derivative right to access government information in areas that are necessary for meaningful expression.
Posts of Levant calling Guilbeault a “kook,” “thug” and “the stupidest cabinet minister in Ottawa” while he was serving as heritage minister were addressed in court by lawyers, however Levant alleged that Guilbeault had the option to mute him, instead of blocking his account entirely.
Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa said that although Justice Ziinn’s order does not affirm a constitutional right, it does send a strong message about the state of the law.
“We do know that government officials are using these platforms all the time for what are official statements and basically the business of government, and that should be accessible to anyone,” said Geist. “It shouldn’t be open to a minister or their staff to decide who has access to publicly available information on a particular platform.”
“I understand that there is abuse online that no one, minister or otherwise, should have to face,” he continued, but since X does offer a mute option, Geist added, “I think it becomes harder and harder to justify outright blocking of individuals.”
The Treasury Board Secretariat and Guilebault’s office have not yet commented on the order.