(This is an archived case summary)
This case addressed the constitutionality of Quebec legislation prohibiting commercial advertising directed at persons less than thirteen years of age. A key issue addressed by the Supreme Court of Canada was whether the prohibition violated the freedom of expression guarantee in s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Court established that freedom of expression protects any activity that attempts to convey a meaning, with the exception of violent expression. Accordingly, commercial advertising was a form of expression protected by s. 2(b). As the purpose and effect of the legislation was to limit or restrict attempts by advertisers to convey a meaning, the law infringed freedom of expression. However, a majority of the Court held that the infringement was justified. The government had a pressing and substantial objective in protecting children from “the techniques of seduction and manipulation abundant in advertising”. This objective was in line with the general goal of consumer protection legislation. While there was conflicting social science evidence, the majority found that that the evidence nonetheless supported the reasonableness of the prohibition. The majority noted that advertisers were free to direct their messages to the true purchasers of children's products, namely, parents and adults. Advertisers were also permitted to participate in educational advertising to children. The Court dismissed concerns that the prohibition would result in reduced revenues and stated that marketers would just have to develop new marketing strategies for children's projects.
Irwin Toy Ltd. v. Quebec (A.G.)
April 27, 1989
Supreme Court of Canada  1 SCR 927
KEYWORDS: freedom of expression – constitutional law – commercial speech – advertising – children
SUMMARY BY: Sarah Ciarrocchi