Let’s discuss Thursday’s “Incident” at the Niagara Region. I don’t think anyone is arguing this was not a blatant disregard for Charter Rights and that section 2b of the Charter (freedom of thought, belief, opinion, expression and press) is one of the tenants of Canadian democracy. I won’t argue that point; we all agree a free press if fundamental to a free society. I would, however, like to point out a few other points I thought were common sense… but, there is nothing common about sense, is there?
One of the reasons we were all present on Thursday was Councillor Andy Petrowski. Councillor Petrowski is free to believe and express anything he wants but that does not give him the right to be derogatory of others and their beliefs. Before using social media, ask yourself the following questions: does my message impinge on the rights of others? is my message positive or does it blame or shame someone for their own beliefs? Could my message be construed as hate speech? Councillor Petrowski should be sanctioned for his repeated conduct and a paid leave of absence is not acceptable to the people of Niagara.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn’t stop at Fundamental Freedoms, including free press, belief, and opinion; we also have rights. Sections 7 and 8 of the Charter state we have the right to life, liberty and security of person and the right to be secure from unreasonable seizures. Here’s where things get crazy hard to comprehend: any devices removed from council should have been immediately returned to their owner OR handed over to the police officers; if the officers do not have the authority to seize it, you probably don’t either. End of story.
Was it illegal to attempt to record an in-camera session of council?
Yes. Preston Haskell, who’s device was found to be recording the in-camera session, says there was no intent and one must take him at his word. (UPDATE: Niagara Regional Police say the investigation is ongoing.)
Was council right to contact the police to sort the matter out?
Yes. Councillors are not investigators and do not hold the power to seize property or expel someone from a public building. (UPDATE: According to Councillors Annunziata and Barrick, councillors do have the power to see under hats, and Councillor Barrick believes its a conflict of interest for the media to ask questions.)
Did Regional staff break the law?
Yes; the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office has begun an investigation.
Did CAO Carmen D’Angelo direct staff to do so?
That remains to be seen.