International Fund for Animal Welfare, Inc v Canada, [1987] 1 FC 244

The plaintiff, Davies, has been adamantly committed to the abolition of the seal hunt. In 1969, he broadened the base of his attack by creating the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Inc. (IFAW). Through IFAW, he enlisted the aid of the media in spreading his message. IFAW used helicopters to ferry media people to the scene of the hunt.

The Seal Protection Regulations prohibit any person from landing a helicopter or other aircraft within half a nautical mile of any seal on the ice in the Gulf Area or Front Area or from operating such aircraft over any seal on the ice at less than 2,000 feet unless on a scheduled commercial flight, except with ministerial permission.

The plaintiff was charged with having violated the Regulations. Repeated applications by IFAW to obtain sealing access for representatives were turned down.

The plaintiffs challenge the constitutional validity of the Regulations. It is said that the Regulations deny the plaintiffs their paragraph 2(b) Charter right of freedom of expression. This right would include “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds” through any form of media, as stated in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The court concluded that freedom of expression must include freedom of access to all information pertinent to the ideas or beliefs sought to be expressed, subject to reasonable limitations necessary to national security, public order, public health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

The purpose of the Regulations, as stated by the then Minister of Fisheries, was to prohibit unjustifiable interference in the lawful activities of the sealers. This was a valid purpose. The Regulations, it was stated, were aimed at the conservation and protection of seals and the proper management and control of the seal fishery, having regard to the seal harvest in light of its historic and traditional origins and the rights of those who earned a living therefrom.

However, the actual effect of the regulatory provisions was to impinge on the plaintiffs’ right of freedom of expression.

The question then was, as to whether those provisions fell within the limitation clause in Charter section 1. The collective governmental interest of protecting both the seals and the fundamental right of the sealers to pursue their livelihood outweighed the plaintiffs’ right of freedom of access to information. In the result, the limitations prescribed by the Seal Protection Regulations are reasonable in the circumstances and demonstrably justifiable by the normal, perceptive standards of a free and democratic society.

Therefore, the plaintiff’s action for declaratory and injunctive relief was dismissed.

Source: Case Law

Jurisdiction: Canada (Federal)

Topics: Charter of Rights and FreedomsFreedom of ExpressionMinister of FisheriesregulationssealSeal Hunt

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