Global Freedom of Expression

Edmonton Journal v. Alberta

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    December 21, 1989
  • Outcome
    Dismissed, Law or Action Upheld
  • Case Number
    2 S.C.R. 1326
  • Region & Country
    Canada, North America
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law, Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Content Regulation / Censorship, Press Freedom

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Supreme Court of Canada held that a law limiting what media outlets could publish about matrimonial and civil court proceedings violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects freedom of expression and freedom of the press and media. The Edmonton Journal brought a suit against the government of Alberta after it passed the prohibitive law. The Court explained that freedom of expression was essential to democracy and could not be restricted because it informed the public and exposed the court system to public scrutiny.


The Edmonton Journal brought suit against the government of Alberta after they passed Section 30 of the Judicature Act (“the Act”). Section 30 of the Act limited what newspapers and other media outlets could publish with regards to matrimonial and civil court proceedings. Under Section 30(1) of the Act, media outlets were prevented from publishing information regarding  matrimonial suits beyond names, addresses, occupations, a concise statement of the charges, counter-charges, and the findings of the court. Furthermore, under Section 30(2) of the Act, materials that could be published in civil proceedings were restricted to names of the parties, the general nature of the claims, and defenses. The Edmonton Journal argued that such limitations violated Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which protects individual’s freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, and freedom of the press and media.

After the district court and the Court of Appeals dismissed the charges, the Edmonton Journal appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada which approved the appeal and ruled on the case.






Decision Overview

Overall, the Supreme Court held that Section 30 of the  Alberta Judicature Act violated Article 2(b) and was not justified under Article 1 of the Canadian Charter of  Rights and Freedom. C.J. Dickson, JJ. Lamar, and JJ. Cory delivered the opinion of the Court emphasizing that the freedom of expression is essential to democracy. Freedom of the press cannot be restricted, for it serves to inform the public and exposes the court system to public scrutiny. Section 30 of the Act was too broad and lesser measures to protect the privacy, affected third parties, and to ensure fairness could have been taken.

JJ. La Forest, L’Heureux‑Dubé and Sopinka dissented in part, writing that some of the limitations in Section 30 of the Alberta Judicature Act are justified. They specify parts of the Act that protect excessive privacy information that is needless to any form of public debate. The dissenters fear that by not adequately protecting information such as the name of children and witnesses involved, matrimonial conflicts will be prevented from going to court. The dissenters argue that Section 30(1) concerning limitations on matrimonial proceedings is Constitutional, while Section 30(2) violates 2(b) of the Charter.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The Court lifted a form of censorship that limited media outlets’ ability to publish court proceedings, thus protecting the freedom of the press. The Court’s decision sets precedent for when and how the right to privacy can and cannot limit the freedom of the press. The media cannot be unnecessarily restricted from publishing court data that is essential to public debate and scrutiny in a democracy.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Can., Charter of Rights and Freedoms, sec. 2
  • Can., Charter of Rights and Freedoms, sec. 1
  • Can., Charter of Rights and Freedoms, sec. 15

    Is argued, but is not discussed because Section 30 of the Alberta Judicature Act violated 2(b) of the Charter

General Law Notes

Section  30, subsections (1) and (2) of the Alberta Judicature Act were declared unconstitutional and the language has since been removed. The original language of the section is as stated:

30(1)  No person shall within Alberta print or publish or cause or procure to be printed or published in relation to a judicial proceeding in a court of civil jurisdiction in Alberta for dissolution of marriage or nullity of marriage or for judicial separation or for restitution of conjugal rights or in relation to a marriage or an order, judgment or decree in respect of a marriage, any matter or detail the publication of which is prohibited by this section, or any other particulars except

(a) the names, addresses and occupations of the parties and witnesses,

(b) a concise statement of the charges, defenses and counter-charges in support of which evidence has been given,

(c) submissions on a point of law arising in the course of the proceedings and the decision of the court thereon, and

(d) the summing up of the judge and the finding of the jury, if any, and the judgment of the court and observations made by the judge in giving judgment.

(2)  No person shall, before the trial of any proceedings had in a court of civil jurisdiction in Alberta or, if there is no trial, before the determination of the proceedings within Alberta, print or publish or cause to be printed or published anything contained in a statement of claim, statement of defence or other pleading, examination for discovery or in an affidavit or other document other than

(a) the names and addresses of the parties and their solicitors, and

(b) a concise statement of the nature of the claim or of the defence, as the case may be, in general words such as, “the claim is for the price of goods sold and delivered”, or “the claim is for damages for personal injuries caused by the negligent operation of an automobile”, or as the case may be.

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Edmonton Journal v. Alberta creates a binding precedent that protects freedom of the press throughout Canada.

The decision was cited in:

Official Case Documents

Official Case Documents:

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