Michael Moore might be in trouble in America for violating the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance rules. Fahrenheit 9/11, a movie lambasting President George W. Bush for the decision to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, comes awfully close to being a political advertisement. The message? Don’t vote for Bush. That’s what David T. Hardy, coauthor of Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man, thinks. He says McCain-Feingold is a “weird law” that would apply to the advertising for Moore’s recent flick.
And now, a new website is claiming Moore is also in breach of an election law north of the border. When Moore waddled into Canada’s June 28 federal election with exhortations to vote for someone other than Conservative party candidate Stephen Harper, he may have broken the law.
Chargemoore.com, a Canadian website petitioning Canada’s election officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley to charge Moore, claims that when Moore said things such as: “You’ve got four days after it [Fahrenheit 9/11] opens to get people out to the polls to make sure that Mr. Harper does not become your next prime minister,” he violated Canada’s law.
“Michael Moore is a loudmouth who has done a good job of annoying Americans,” says Kasra Nejatian, a Queen’s University business student and founder of the website. “The problem is that he usually only annoys people, this time he broke our laws. Not only is he a loudmouth, he is a loudmouth foreigner who breaks our laws.”
Nejatian is quite serious about having Moore charged. To that end, he’s retained the services of Jonathan Denis, a Calgary, Alberta lawyer, as legal counsel. Denis explains that Moore may have violated Section 331 of the Canada Elections Act. The Section reads: “No person who does not reside in Canada shall, during an election period, in any way induce electors to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate unless the person is (a) a Canadian citizen; or (b) a permanent resident.”
Denis thinks the violation is pretty obvious.
So does Gerry Nicholls, vice president of the National Citizen’s Coalition (NCC), a national right-wing lobby group that has given steam to Nejatian’s efforts by publicly supporting it. Nichols says that although they disapprove vehemently with Canada’s election laws, they believe those laws should be applied consistently. In their view, conservative groups get slammed with such “gag” laws all the time while liberals get off the hook. He hopes Elections Canada–an independent agency that reports to Canada’s parliament–will be equally aggressive in prosecuting those on the left of the political spectrum. “The only thing worse than a gag law,” he says, “is a gag law that is selectively enforced.”
But this mess gets a little bit thicker. Michael Bradley, mayor of the city of Sarnia, has entered the fray with a “tongue-in-cheek” offer of honorary citizenship to Moore. In a letter to the chief election officer, the mayor wrote: “If it will assist in your review of this matter I am willing to declare Michael Moore a citizen of Sarnia, Ontario therefore making him a de-facto Canadian. Making him a honourary Canadian will give him the right to whine, bitch, moan, complain about taxation and the high level of taxes and then move forward and pay his tax bill and vote for the government in power.”
The mayor, featured in Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, shares the NCC’s antipathy toward the gag law, and says he is not “disinclined” to support the NCC’s point. Bradley says he believes in “freedom of trade” and “freedom of expression” and thinks, with the NCC, that the gag law is a violation of the latter. Offering Moore citizenship, he says, is a way of saying the law is nonsense.
“That’s the concern I have,” says Bradley. “If an idea is valid, the public will make a decision whether they accept it or not. But to legislate an individual’s or group’s right to speak out during an election, I do find that distasteful.”
The mayor adds that the obvious relationship between the city of Sarnia and Moore also informs the citizenship offer. Sarnia is only 90 miles from Flint, Mich., where Moore grew up. It has been featured as a setting in Moore’s movies, as were citizens of Sarnia. So it isn’t necessarily a partisan battle between the mayor and the conservative groups, says Bradley. He adds: “Philosophically, if it was Rush Limbaugh, I would feel the same way.”
Nichols is glad to have the mayor onside, but he thinks the citizenship bit is a “cheap P.R. stunt” on Bradley’s part. He’s pretty certain the mayor can’t bestow citizenship on anyone, and he’s glad of it. “The last thing Canada needs is another Marxist here, another left-winger,” he says of Moore. “Let the Americans keep him.”
Nejatian thinks there are only two possible outcomes of his petition initiative–and he would be happy with both. “It’s a win-win situation for us,” he says. “Either Michael Moore is charged and is guilty of breaking our law and faces a penalty, or this gag law is found unconstitutional. I’ll take either.”
–Peter Jaworski is a reporter for Canada’s Western Standard.