Uber’s Freedom of Expression

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In City of Toronto v. Uber Canada Inc., 2015 ONSC 1617, Justice Diamond heard a motion regarding the disclosure of Uber’s insurance policy. Uber wanted to seal the insurance policy from the City of Toronto in the context of the City’s application for a declaratory order “that Uber operates a taxi cab brokerage and limousine service contrary to the licensing provisions… [and an injunction] restraining Uber from operating those businesses within Toronto, Ontario.”

At paragraph 3, Justice Diamond writes that in response to the City’s application:

Uber takes the responding position that as a technology company, the provisions of the Code do not apply to those services offered by Uber, and even if those services are found to be subject to the City’s licensing requirements, Uber asserts that such licensing requirements infringe upon, inter alia, its right to freedom of expression under section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Although I have not read the pleadings in the application, I find the characterization of Uber as a technology company first and a limousine service second an interesting argument. However, even if Uber could be properly characterized as a technology company, so what? Uber merely delivers the same service under a superior platform. People or companies should not be allowed to avoid following rules or working with governments by using a different label. As it is often said: “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I also find the argument that the City of Toronto is infringing Uber’s freedom of expression to be really creative.

Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that:

 Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

(d) freedom of association.

Uber’s platform connects drivers with clients in a fresh and effective way. In connecting people, Uber communicates and associates with its clients and its drivers. The City of Toronto’s licensing provisions do infringe on Uber’s freedoms to express and associate. However, section 1 of the Charter allows the government to place “reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

I look forward to the progress of this application. It will certainly be precedent setting as it deals with the ever-growing disruption of traditionally protected industries by technology.

City of Toronto v. Uber Canada Inc., 2015 ONSC 1617 case: http://bit.ly/1HQGfzp

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