Procedural by-law 93-2009 contained this:
A12.1 …. Correspondence containing obscene or defamatory materials shall not be presented to council.
This could have been problematic if whoever decided what was obscene or defamatory abused that privilege to shut out criticism. As far as I know the rule was not abused during the last council or before.
But it has been abused during this council’s term. On February 2, 2011, when I asked that a letter of mine be sent to council and place d on schedule “B” in a council agenda package, clerk Cathrae, with the mayor’s support, deemed my letter “defamatory” and refused to give it to council or put it on schedule “B”. (See Craig’s Commentary 1-15)
My letter was not defamatory by any stretch. My letter was censored because it was critical. The Cathrae/ Close censorship was a clear attack on my freedom of expression. And there were others censored.
On April 1, 2011, two months later, to give staff even more censorship power, a definition of defamatory was added to the procedural bylaw (56 – 2011):
A1.6 “Defamatory” means injurious to reputation, slanderous or libelous.
The definition was wrong. It fails to capture the fact that a statement must be false to be defamatory. Defining “defamatory” as they did above leaves the prohibition (“defamatory shall not be presented”) open to serious abuse. It makes it so that any staff member can censor any criticism just by declaring it defamatory, regardless of whether it actually is defamatory or not.
Which is exactly what Cathrae did with several letters to council.
Bylaw 106 – 2013
But apparently Cathrae did not feel that the rule was clear enough to justify her censorship of all criticism or strong enough to give her the control that she wanted. So in the October 2013 amendment of the procedural by-law she added a “code of conduct for members of the public” which included a section prohibiting anyone from orally using “defamatory” language in a meeting. And she also added that whether correspondence was defamatory or not would be “determined by staff”. These provisions were made to give staff a tool to prohibit anyone from orally criticising a staff or council member.
Bylaw 106 – 2013 contains:
A1.8 “Defamatory” means injurious to reputation, slanderous or libelous.
A2.6.5 No person shall use indecent, offensive, defamatory or insulting language or speak disrespectfully of any member of Council or any employee of the Town.
Al2.4 Correspondence or any material containing obscene or defamatory
language, as determined by staff, will not be directed to the appropriate
department for action or response and will not be placed on any Council
And then Cathrae added four sections that allowed the mayor to expel anyone accused (by Cathrae) of “defamation”, and allowed council to set the term of the “expulsion” to life:
A2.6.7. Behaviours in this section are not all encompassing. It shall be noted that any behaviour deemed to be unbecoming will be subject to the progressive action as outlined herein.
A2.6.8 When ruling on conduct matters, the mayor will warn the offender of the improper behaviour and will request that the behaviour ceases. This will be considered the only warning.
A2.6.9 If the behaviour continues the mayor will expel the offender from the meeting. If required, assistance may be sought from local authorities.
A2.6.10 Council may by resolution, set terms for the expulsion and return, at their discretion.
March 18, 2014 proposal
It appears that Cathrae felt a need for even more power, so she proposed (March 18, 2014) expansion of the scope of “defamatory” to make it even clearer that criticism would be deemed by staff to be defamatory:
A1.8 “Defamatory” means attacks of character , attacks of reputation, name calling, injurious to reputation, slanderous or libellous.
A12. 4 Correspondence or any material containing obscene or defamatory language, as determined by staff, will not be directed to the appropriate department for action or response and will not be placed on any Council agenda nor will the correspondence be read at any public meeting.
The changes were getting really ridiculous. First the definition of defamation was even farther from reality and closer to prohibiting all criticism, second staff was neither competent nor impartial enough to be deciding what is defamatory, and third there is no authority in the Municipal act for council to make a by-law for expelling people. So I sent in a letter to that effect.
Staff reacted to my letter pretty much as expected. They deemed some comments in my letter to be defamatory, they refused to circulate the letter to council, and they refused to read it at the March 18 public meeting. So I sent the letter, as originally written, that is complete with the so-called “defamatory” parts, directly to council.
Then just before the public meeting it appears they realized how ridiculous their actions were, and they decided to read my letter, absent the part deemed defamatory, into the record at the March 18, 2014 public meeting.
April 1, 2014 proposal
Then Cathrae proposed another revision. She took out the word “defamatory” completely. In the definitions section “defamatory” was replaced by “deprecating”, and “derogatory” was added to the list of prohibitions:
A1.8 “Deprecating” means attacks of character , attacks of reputation, name calling, injurious to reputation, derogatory, slanderous or libellous.
A12. 4 Correspondence or any material containing obscene, derogatory or deprecating language, as determined by staff, will not be directed to the appropriate department for action or response and will not be placed on any Council agenda nor will the correspondence be read at any public meeting.
A22.214.171.124: No person shall use indecent, offensive, derogatory, deprecating or insulting language or speak disrespectfully of any member of Council or any employee of the Town.
This was the most ridiculous change yet.
“Deprecating” means “critical”.
When I complained to council that “defamatory” had been defined in such a way as to allow staff to interpret it as meaning “critical”, and that it would be improperly used to censor criticism, Cathrae just changed the rule to prohibit “deprecating” instead of “defamatory”.
So that’s where we are. The rule prohibits criticism. Staff gets to decide what is and what is not criticism (deprecatory). Staff can censor any written document that they feel is criticism. The Mayor can expel any member of the public from any meeting for uttering “criticism”. Council decides the punishment (up to a lifetime expulsion).
Loss of Freedom of expression
The constitution of Canada is the supreme law.
The constitution schedule A (charter of freedoms and rights) section 2 (b) says:
2. (b) Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(b) freedom of ….. expression, ……
The TSBP defamation provision is counter to section 2 (b) of the Charter, and is a direct attack on freedom of expression. I fear the defamation provision will be used to curtail that freedom.
The “defamation” / “deprecation” provisions are just another step away from democracy and towards tyranny, a change that has included, among other things: John Close calling bloggers “criminals”, a “plague”, a “blight on society, and, “potentially violent offenders”; getting rid of schedule “B”; Rhonda Cook’s groundless tax-funded lawsuit against some bloggers; defining “workplace harassment” to include criticism on a blog; allowing three readings of by-laws in one meeting; the draconian code of conduct for residents; and the indemnification by-law.
In a separate policy Cathrae and Close have already defined “workplace harassment” to include any “unwanted actions”, and to include any “unwanted comments” on the internet (which includes blogs). I’ll bet Cathrae is already working on a rule that allows council to ban anyone from any public meeting and from any town building, and to prohibit any member of the public from corresponding with any member of staff, if that member of the public is deemed (by staff of course) to have committed “workplace harassment”. With such a rule you could be banned for life if you criticize staff or council on the internet.
So you more timid bloggers should brush up on your sycophant vernacular. Because if you criticise Ceasar (or anyone else at town hall), and not praise him, it is you who may end up getting buried (by Cathrae’s law).
(I’m already banned for life, so I can continue to gently and constructively criticize).
Who’s behind this nonsense?
In this commentary I have portrayed the draconian provisions of the procedural by-law as the work of Clerk Cathrae. But I recognize that there could be someone in the background, perhaps a member of council, pulling Cathrae’s strings.
But regardless of who’s behind it, it has to stop.
Does anyone on council have the guts to put an end to this staff nonsense?