Global Freedom of Expression

Irwin toy ltd. v. Quebec

Closed Mixed Outcome

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Audio / Visual Broadcasting
  • Date of Decision
    April 27, 1989
  • Outcome
    Law or Action Upheld
  • Case Number
    [1989] 1 S.C.R. 927
  • Region & Country
    Canada, North America
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Commercial Speech, Content Regulation / Censorship, Licensing / Media Regulation
  • Tags

Content Attribution Policy

Global Freedom of Expression is an academic initiative and therefore, we encourage you to share and republish excerpts of our content so long as they are not used for commercial purposes and you respect the following policy:

  • Attribute Columbia Global Freedom of Expression as the source.
  • Link to the original URL of the specific case analysis, publication, update, blog or landing page of the down loadable content you are referencing.

Attribution, copyright, and license information for media used by Global Freedom of Expression is available on our Credits page.

Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Supreme Court of Canada upheld a ban on children’s advertising. In 1980, Irwin Toy broadcasted advertisements that violated the Consumer Protection Act’s ban on children’s advertising. Toy argued that the ban violated his right to freedom of expression and commercial speech. The Court reasoned that there existed a pressing and substantial government objective to protect children from the manipulation of advertising, and that the ban resulted in minimal impairment of the right to freedom of expression and created no deleterious effects.


In 1980, the respondent broadcast advertisements which were claimed to be in violation of the Consumer Protection Act. An interlocutory injunction was granted by the Superior Court against the respondent to which the respondent appealed. The Court found that this act was not aimed exclusively at television advertising and the purpose of the act to protect the consumer was valid. Ultimately the Court rejected the proposition that the Act infringed on the right to commercial speech. The Court of Appeals majority opinion stated that the act did not serve an important enough legislative purpose to justify the Act’s interference with commercial speech. This was again appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

This case involves the constitutionality of the Consumer Protection Act, as it prohibits television advertising that is directed at children under the age of thirteen. This case comes before the Supreme Court from the Quebec Court of Appeal, appealed from the Superior Court for the District of Montreal. The Superior Court for the District of Montreal dismissed the action.

Decision Overview

The first issue before the Court was the validity of the Consumer Protection Act under the division of powers in Canada, and whether this act impermissibly infringed on federal powers. The respondent put forth several arguments why this Act violated separation of powers, all of which were rejected by the Court. The Court found “the provisions in question do not trench on exclusive federal jurisdiction by purporting to apply to a federal undertaking and, in so doing, affecting a vital part of its operation.” [Pg. 21, para. 1]

The Court then examined whether the Act impermissibly infringed on freedom of expression. This case came before the Court at the same time as two other cases, Ford and Devine, which all employed similar questions implicating freedom of expression. However, this case concerned advertising directed at children, thus dealing with different questions than those raised in the other cases before the Court.

First, the Court looked at whether the Respondent’s conduct was within the scope of protection afforded by freedom of expression. On this matter, the Court found that advertising does aim to convey a meaning and is not outside the scope of protected forms of expression, therefore meeting this first prong.

Second, the Court looked at whether the purpose of the government action was to restrict that freedom of expression. The Court explained the important difference between content based and content neutral restrictions, and analyzed whether the effect of the governmental action was to restrict freedom of expression. The Court found that the purpose of the relevant provisions of the Consumer Protection Act were to restrict not just the time, place, and manner of certain kinds of speech – but to restrict content directly. This type of restriction can only be allowed if it meets the test under Section 1 of the Canadian Charter and Section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter (ruled virtually the same by the Court). The respondent argued that under the Canadian Charter the Act was void for vagueness; specifically, that the provisions were confusing and contradictory and left too much discretion to the judiciary. However, the Court found that the provisions were not confusing or contradictory, and that the Act provided an intelligible standard for the judiciary in interpreting the Act. Therefore, the test for the Court was the constitutionality of the provisions under the Canadian and Quebec Charter, or the Oakes test.

The Oakes test first asks whether there is a pressing and substantial objective to the legislation. The Court found this part of the test was met as this legislation is aimed at protecting a vulnerable group to commercial manipulation within our society, e.g., children under thirteen years of age. Second, the Court discussed whether the means to accomplish the legislative goal were proportional to the objective. The Court found that: (1) the ban rationally connected to protecting children from advertising; (2) the ban was the minimal impairment on freedom of expression with the goal of protecting children from advertising; and (3) there was no suggestion that the ban produced deleterious effects. Therefore, the Court found that the ban did not violate Section 1 of the Canadian Charter or Section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter.

Finally, the Court looked at whether the Act violated Section 7 of the Canadian Charter, which gives every individual the right to life, liberty and security. However, the Court found that because this Act applies to corporations, and not individuals, corporations cannot claim the protection of Section 7.

The dissent, written by Justice McIntyre, did not agree that the infringement by the Consumer Protection Act on the Canadian Charter was justified or proportional to the infringement upon freedom of expression.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

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

Mixed Outcome

This case presents a mixed outcome. Although, the Court utilizes a multi-pronged test to determine if the publication bans are justified even though they infringe on freedom of expression, the Court ultimately dismisses the action because the publication bans meet all the prongs of the Oakes test according to the Court.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

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

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Can., RWDSU v. Dolphin Delivery Ltd., [1986] 2 S.C.R. 573
  • Can., Switzman v. Elbling, [1957] S.C.R. 285
  • Can., R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd., [1985] 1 S.C.R. 295
  • Can., QC, Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms

    Section 3 and 9.1

  • Can., Charter of Rights and Freedoms, sec. 1
  • Can., Charter of Rights and Freedoms, sec. 2
  • Can., Charter of Rights and Freedoms, sec. 7
  • Can., Ford v. Quebec (Attorney General), [1988] 2 S.C.R. 712
  • Can., R. v. Oakes, [1986] 1 S.C.R. 103
  • Can., Re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 486
  • Can., Attorney General of Quebec v. Kellogg's Co. of Canada, [1978] 2 S.C.R. 211
  • Can., Consumer Protection Act

    Section 248; 249; and 252

  • Can., Saumur v. City of Quebec, [1953] 2 S.C.R. 299
  • Can., Bell Canada v. Quebec (Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail), [1988] 1 S.C.R. 749 (Bell Canada 1988)
  • Can., Attorney­General for Manitoba v. Attorney­General for Canada, [1929] A.C. 260 (P.C.)
  • Can., Re C.F.R.B. and Attorney­General for Canada, [1973] 3 O.R. 819 (C.A.)
  • Can., Capital Cities Communications Inc. v. Canadian Radio­Television Commission, [1978] 2 S.C.R. 141
  • Can., Reference Re Public Service Employee Relations Act (Alta.), [1987] 1 S.C.R. 313
  • Can., PSAC v. Canada, [1987] 1 S.C.R. 424; and RWDSU v. Saskatchewan, [1987] 1 S.C.R. 460
  • Can., Commission du salaire minimum v. Bell Telephone Co. of Canada, [1966] S.C.R. 767
  • Can., Alliance des professeurs de Montréal v. Procureur général du Québec, [1985] C.A. 376

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

  • U.S., Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319 (1937)

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.

As a judgment of the Supreme Court, the highest Court in Canada, this decision binds all lower courts.

The decision was cited in:

Official Case Documents

Official Case Documents:

Have comments?

Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.

Send Feedback