Free speech advocate smells the wolf of censorship in City of Nanaimo letter

Lawyers cites Charter of Rights after social media sites asked to refrain from what the city considers online personal attacks on its staff

A lawyer has sent letters on behalf of the City of Nanaimo to three social media sites that provide a forum for the discussion of local politics.

David Sutherland knows what he’d do if he received a chilling legal letter like the one three social media website hosts received on behalf of the City of Nanaimo last month.

He’d be mailing them a copy of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and pointedly asking what part of it supports a government seeking to restrict political speech.

Saying several personal attacks had been made about the competency and character of identifiable city staff, lawyer Adrienne Atherton asked website moderators to delete such posts and take steps to ensure they do not appear in the future.

The letter cited a desire to protect staff from workplace harassment and bullying, pointing out that is also required of employers under WorksafeBC regulations.

But Sutherland, a prominent Vancouver-based free speech and media lawyer, suggested the letter might be better described as an attempt to dress up the wolf of censorship in the sheep’s clothing of protecting employees. He said the Charter right to freedom of expression clearly supersedes any WorksafeBC policy, adding the government cannot be taking steps to stop people from criticizing it, no matter what WorksafeBC regulations might say.

“Civil servants are not immune from criticism. In many cases, calling them out by name may be the only way to inhibit misbehaviour,” he said.

“This terrible scourge of criticism of civil servants warrants the muzzling of citizens? We can’t have it and we can’t dress it up, this wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

When asked to provide specific examples of the attacks in question, Nanaimo director of human resources John Van Horne was unable to do so. He described the action as a response to an issue that is out there and has been for some time.

“It’s not any particular one,” he said.

WorksafeBC said it had no opinion on the letter itself, but confirmed it accurately describes Nanaimo’s responsibilities under WorksafeBC policy. Worksafe representatives were unaware of any complaints of this nature from Nanaimo or elsewhere, but said the employer is in the best position to determine whether action is necessary.

Nine Vancouver Island local government jurisdictions contacted by Black Press said they have not had an issue with social media commenting and have not considered action like Nanaimo’s. A tenth, Campbell River, said it has had problems, but is not considering action.

“Yes, this has been an unfortunate issue for both staff and elected officials and is of concern to us,” Campbell River Mayor Andy Adams said. “While it may be a ‘freedom of speech’ issue, nobody deserves to be subjected to some to malicious and defamatory comments that are becoming far too common, especially when it impacts people’s family members, particularly children.”

North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure said people who step over the line eventually get exposed for who they are.

“It is my belief (or is it hope) that those who abuse social media inevitably discredit themselves and have no influence beyond their small circle of disciples,” he said.

The websites Nanaimo Political Talk, Gord Fuller Municipally (A)Musing, and A Better Nanaimo Facebook pages received the letter.

Don Bonner of A Better Nanaimo said it did have a “bit of a chilling effect.”

— with files from Tamara Cunningham

Follow me on Twitter @JohnMcKinleyBP

 

Just Posted

CONTEST: Win a pair of tickets to Sunfest Country Music Festival

Make sure to Like the Comox Valley Record’s Facebook page

3L happy with CVRD staff reversal of ruling

Company’s request for minor amendment to RGS was announced as defeated Tuesday, overturned Wednesday

Nickel Carnival coming to Courtenay

Families welcome for games, face painting, food and more

Specialized vehicle analyzing Courtenay roads

If you see a strange-looking white van with what looks like a… Continue reading

LETTER: Hat obnoxious, manager not bigoted

One Langley Advance letter writer takes exception to another’s comments about an MAGA hat incident.

Through your lens: Okanagan wildfires

Check out some of the captivating images and video from social media of the wildfires

Bob Castle’s Under the Glacier cartoon for July 19, 2018

Bob Castle’s Under the Glacier cartoon for July 19, 2018… Continue reading

BC Games: Opening Ceremony from Laketown Ranch

Hundreds of athletes and thousands of volunteers, coaches, parents and officials

World’s translators push back on forcing Trump interpreter to testify

Democrats had asked translator to testify about Trump’s lengthy conversation with Putin in Helsinki

Comox legend guest of honour

Stocky Edwards will be the man of the hour Aug. 8

No decision on B.C. school stabbing suspect’s mental fitness for trial

The BC Review Board could not determine whether Gabriel Klein, 21, is fit to stand trial

Cannabis facility planned in Courtenay

Design up to 100,000 square feet

Canadian government threatens to retaliate if Trump imposes auto tariffs

U.S president had suggested that auto imports pose a national security risk to the U.S.

Wildfire evacuation order forces bride to search for new wedding venue

Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards is under an order due to the Mount Eneas wildfire south of Peachland

Most Read