The Supreme Court upheld the city of Mirabel’s decision to restrict Publisac distribution on its territory in a Wednesday ruling, much to the chagrin of TC Transcontinental, which intends to appeal the decision.
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In 2019, the city passed a bylaw that required citizens to voluntarily join in order to receive the Publisac. TC Transcontinental, the company that owns the Publisac, responded by calling the move “illegal” and deciding to sue the city.
For the company, the “opt-out” system was sufficient, where a red sticker could be applied to not receive the Publisac. However, according to the city, several citizens complained about receiving the printed advertisements anyway.
In his decision, Judge Jean-Yves Lalonde acknowledged that the company was not consulted before the articles of incorporation were approved, but said “nothing in the law” required the municipality to do so.
“[C’]is a decree of public interest justified by the desire to reduce the management of residues and promote the cleanliness of the territory. These are overriding environmental issues that do not require a great deal of prior expertise before concluding that they are issues conducive to the well-being of citizens,” he wrote in his decision.
TC Transcontinental also argued that the comparison was inappropriate, particularly because Canada Post was not subject to it. However, the latter is the responsibility of the federal government.
“The court concludes that the passage of Bylaw 2326 is entirely proportional to the environmental issues that are at the heart of Mirabel’s local policies,” it said.
The argument of violation of freedom of expression was also swept away, with the court pointing out that it is not an “absolute right”.
“MTC is not immune to sacrifice or compromise in exercising its right to free speech when, in exchange, other societal issues demand it,” the judge said.
In his decision, he recalls that protecting the environment has become a fundamental value of society.
“The beneficial effects of By-Law 2326 far outweigh the as yet unknown adverse effects that could result from minimal interference with MTC’s freedom of expression,” the ruling reads.
This ruling angered TC Transcontinental, which quickly announced it would appeal.
“We are disappointed with the court’s decision and will be challenging it on appeal,” said Patrick Brayley, senior vice president, distribution, TC Transcontinental, in a press release.
“In the current inflationary context and at a time when the population is facing unprecedented price increases, the social and economic relevance of the Publisac is greater than ever,” added Mr Brayley, arguing that the bag of promotional inserts would be useful for retailers and customers.
The publishers are also used to distribute many local newspapers, he recalled.
That ruling is grist to the mill for the city of Montreal, which issued a similar ordinance earlier this month to limit the spread of Publisac on its territory starting next year.
The decision was well received by Mayor Valérie Plante’s office.
“Today’s verdict clearly reflects the desire of citizens and communities to accelerate the green transition, for which reduction at source is central,” said Catherine Cadotte, spokeswoman for the mayor.