EDITORIAL: Silencing critics

Proposed changes punish more than just those who hurl abuse.

It should go without saying that abusive behaviour will not be tolerated – whether in our homes, at places of business or, yes, towards elected and appointed representatives.

Yet it’s been more than a week, and we’re still trying to understand what message White Rock’s civic leaders were trying to convey when they spent a great deal of time at their governance and legislation committee talking about “abusive” residents.

It was like a repeat of Mayor Wayne Baldwin’s speech of last spring – in which the mayor claimed elected officials were being threatened and harassed – yet this latest discussion was delivered to a mostly empty council chamber and included side discussions about quantity of correspondence.

Last year’s prepared statement – voters might remember – followed an earlier behind-closed-doors decision to abandon civic waste pickup for multifamily residences and businesses, with officials long avoiding a meaningful public explanation. It was at a public meeting April 10, five months after the in-camera decision, that Baldwin said a “councillor, with a young family, has been… threatened unless he changes his vote,” but only later acknowledged the perceived ‘threat’ was to vote the unnamed councillor out of office.

This time around, the facts are no less murky.

Coun. Grant Meyer spoke last week of “rumours out there that there are a handful of people who were saying ‘let’s just waste staff time and the city’s time and bog them down with needless emails and FOIs.’”

It’s difficult to comprehend anyone would believe such rumours – it defies both logic and motivating factors. However, in what seemed less than coincidental, city manager Dan Bottrill had on-hand evidence that seemed to back Meyer’s rumours – presenting two large binders filled with double-sided emails from a single resident in one year.

So, yes, we’ll concede that city representatives receive a lot of correspondence; and yes, some of it is likely abusive.

But is this reason enough to further restrict public involvement at city hall and change the Council and Committee Procedure Bylaw, as proposed by council members?

In all seriousness, city officials are welcome to poll other sectors – coffee baristas, peace officers, nurses, reporters, teachers/students, receptionists and most front-line employees – to see how they deal with “venomous” (to quote Meyer) comments.

Suffice it to say that such behaviour will not be tolerated. Anywhere. Full stop.

But to further restrict legitimate public comment, and delay response to inquiries, opens themselves up to accusations of abuse of power.