I’m not sure where so many public officials get the idea that the job is best-suited to those with the thinnest skin.
Be careful what you write about police officers online — if you live in Granby, Que., you could get slapped with a hefty fine.
The municipality about an hour outside of Montreal is seeking the right to issue fines ranging from $100 to $1,000 to people caught insulting police officers or municipal employees on the internet.
The city council of the small town of Rawdon, Quebec (population: 9400) has managed to get a court order to shut down an online forum (French only) because its users were posting messages that were considered ‘defamatory and detrimental to the reputation’ of the elected board. Police raided the forum owner’s house, copied his entire hard drive and asked him to delete the offending posts, and when he said he had over 8,000 messages to look through, they did not specify which ones were specifically targeted.
But hey, #NotAllCanadiens. The South Pittsburg City, Tennessee has also done its part to ensure governing bodies aren’t stung by the harsh words of constituents.
The commissioners of a small Tennessee town have just voted to ban negative comments about it from social media. This stupid move was prompted by “criticism and lies” being posted online, which supposedly “hampered” the town’s government from performing its duties.
Granby’s bylaw rewrite didn’t originate from the bruised feels of council members or city commissioners, but rather from its police force, which found Kevlar body armor may be great for stopping bullets, but does little to stop hurtful words.
The move comes after town officials discovered a Facebook page called Les policiers zélé de Granby — The Zealous Police of Granby.
And, of course, defenders are stepping up to explain that this is no more than an extension of stupid, previously-existent bylaw.
According to Catherine Bouchard, the director of legal services for Granby, a bylaw already exists for face-to-face insults and has been used in recent years for online slurs.
In order to raise the level of online discourse, insults directed at a select group of people — public servants — must be criminalized. The deputy mayor’s justification is even worse.
“In my opinion, if I threaten you via my keyboard, it’s as though I am making that threat right in front of you.… For me, it’s the same thing,” said Robert Riel, Granby’s deputy mayor.
Threats are a criminal offense and I would assume there are laws in place to address these. Insults — whether they’re face-to-face or from behind keyboards — are just the end result of the world being filled with people that aren’t always pleasant. If the insult rises to the level of defamation, there’s legal recourse for that. If the insults turn into harassment, again, turn to the law.
But all of these different forms of unprotected speech are being thrown in with protected speech under a single, badly-written bylaw. Statements from the town’s lawyer throw out terms like “slurs,” “defamation” and “insults” as though they were all legally interchangeable, making her grasp of the law appear every bit as tenuous as the deputy mayor’s.
And then there’s this:
“If you put something out on the internet, I don’t know what the expectation of privacy is,” Bouchard said.
“Let’s say I write something about you that’s derogatory or that’s insulting … do I have the freedom to write anything about you?
“Your freedom of speech does not give you the right to say anything about anybody you want in an insulting manner. I can’t destroy your reputation and who you are because I have freedom of speech.”
Well, actually you can destroy a citizen’s reputation, Ms. Bouchard. You see, the bylaw only protects city officials from insults, not the general public. Cops and council members can retaliate against those who have hurt their feelings by sending a suddenly-motivated police force to cite offenders.
Bouchard and those voting for this act as though free speech is zero sum. Bouchard acts like public figures would have no other way to counter online insults if it wasn’t for this skewed law. The same online platforms and forums can be accessed both by the public and their representatives. But this bylaw can only be used by public figures.
The Huffington Post coverage notes that the local police hadn’t offered any comment, but were “eagerly awaiting” the results of the vote. I bet they were. I’m sure there’s a few officers who can’t wait to take down the people behind the “insulting” Facebook page — those clever malcontents who thought they were above the law when they expressed themselves using protected speech.