Councillor Webster’s Response to Questions from Bill French posed at July Springwater Township Council Meeting
In fairness here are Springwater Councillor Rick Webster’s answers to the questions I asked at the July Council Meeting as presented at the August 26th combined Planning/Council Meeting. (As a point of interest I had asked Webster prior to the Monday meeting to send me a copy of his response but I did not receive it from him. A good citizen in Midhurst requested a copy from the Township the morning after the meeting and sent it to me.)
Everything except my comments in italics were written and read by Webster at the Meeting. I had to leave early and did not hear the comments.
For clarification, Deputy Mayor MacLean indicated his intention to me to second my notice of motion and evidently he continues to intend to second it.
Mr. French’s question, as he laid it out, has four parts which I will address individually however additionally he pontificates regarding the need for this motion since, as he stated, the matter of libel, slander and defamation is covered under Provincial and federal Statute. Additionally he refers to “hurt feelings” as the motive of my motion.
Let me be perfectly clear here: insinuations of dishonesty are not about hurt feelings but rather about a breach of decorum that transcends hurt feelings and reaches the lofty height of maligning the reputation of honest hardworking people. Call me stupid, tell me you do not agree with me, tell me you wish you had not voted for me….say what you like in that regard, but do NOT call me dishonest unless you have the proof to back it up and are prepared to do so. (BF Comment-I have never accused Webster of being dishonest.)
Part 1- Is this not an attempt to introduce pro SLAPP suit control in our bylaws while the province has recently passed legislation to minimize the use of these strategic lawsuits against public participation as such actions on the part of large companies and institutions has been recognized as bullying and intimidation?
I will quote from the Anti SLAPP Advisory Panel Report to the Attorney General, dated October 28, 2010.
Item #4: Participation by members of the community in matters of public interest is fundamental for democratic society. The very fabric of democracy is woven daily from the acts of citizens who engage in public discussion and contribute in countless ways to creating a civil society alive to the interests and rights of its members.
The key word here is CIVIL. A Civil Society does not make claims that are libel and slanderous. (BF Comment-I do not make claims that are libelous or slanderous but offer opinions on matters relative to good governance)
Item #91: In Ontario, municipal governments do not have the right to sue in defamation. However, there are several recent cases in which municipal councillors have sued someone for criticisms aimed at the municipality or municipal interests generally. Sometimes municipalities pay the expenses of these suits. The question arises whether this is a way of avoiding the general prohibition against municipal libel actions. These cases almost by definition involve matters of public interest, and the resources of an individual or ratepayers group against a municipal government funding an individual politician’s lawsuit are likely to be unequal. (BF Comment-Webster seems to miss the point that the government is acknowledging that the individual or small group is at a disadvantage)
Item #92: The Panel is not prepared to recommend a blanket probation on such suits as part of the law of defamation, however. It is prepared to leave such suits to its general remedy for public participation.
Therefore and having admittedly not read the recently passed legislation that Mr. French has referred to in his question, I will assume that, if such legislation exists at all, it will have not superseded the recommendation of this report. (BF Comment-I think there is some innuendo in here but my feelings aren’t damaged and I will require no therapy)
Part 2 - Is this motion not contrary to the transparency that this council professes?
I believe that my motion when read and understood in its entirety answers this question however for the record I will add, ABSOLUTLEY NOT and this Council’s record stands replete. (BF Comment-He did not explain how it adds to transparency. However he is entitled to his opinion)
Part 3 - Why should we as taxpayers be paying to gag the comments of the taxpayers that you think are uncomplimentary?
The use of the term “Gag” has strong implications. I will assume that Mr. French carefully selected this term as he prepared his question and submitted it in writing. Let me be clear again, “uncomplimentary” is not insinuating dishonesty. It is not the wording or intention of this motion for the taxpayers to pay for legal counsel for anything that is said or written that is merely uncomplimentary. (BF Comment-When you try to control discussion through threat of being sued, it is gagging as we have witnessed with major developers in recent years against resident groups and individuals using SLAPP suits)
Part 4 - Will Councillor Webster withdraw his motion which is a draconian proposal that would find a better place in Iraq or Libya or some third world despot ruled nation?
I think by now, Mr. French will have gotten the notion that I will NOT be withdrawing the motion. It is regretful that Mr. French’s opinion is that the laws passed in this chamber by elected officials have the potential of being “draconian” and that he would compare the result of said passing as making our system similar to countries such as Iraq or Libya. In fact, as I understand it, in these countries merely posing these statements in public would result in, at a minimum, a long prison term. However, this is Mr. French’s opinion and he is certainly entitled to it. (BF Comment-I stand by my “draconian” description and I only refer to this motion by Webster and make no general reference to other positive laws that have been passed by this council)
I still hope that Webster comes to his senses before the September meeting where this motion will be debated and most likely supported by Webster, Collins, McLean and Clement based on their past history. I expect Hanna, McConkey and Ritchie to oppose it.