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.

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

Co-creatorsAdrianna Hatton and Malcolm McKenzie stand next to the little free library revealed Sunday at 9710 First St. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Literary crowd helps opens little free library in Sidney

Located at 9710 First St., the book sharing box features original art and reclaimed wood

Deep Cove Elementary School principal Shelley Hardcastle (right) and vice-principal Mary Kaercher help to restock Reay Creek with fish – in this case, coho fry – after a recent bleach spill killed hundreds of fish. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
North Saanich’s Deep Cove Elementary School helps to restock Sidney’s Reay Creek

Restocking followed bleach spill that killed hundreds of fish in creek

A new report pegs the annual cost of hiring a third party to monitor use of pickleball courts in North Saanich at $12,000. (Black Press Media file photo).
North Saanich could end up hiring third party to monitor pickleball courts

Other options up for consideration include use of cameras and timed locks

The barred owl is the most likely to be spotted in the south Island. (Ann Nightingale photo)
Barred owls dominate Greater Victoria owl-scape

Western screech owl population decimated, partly due to barred owls

Between June 1 and 7, 168 net unconditional sales were made for properties in the VREB region. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria home sales slightly behind last June’s pace

Benchmark value of single-family home in Greater Victoria tops $1 million

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Most Read