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Criticism is confused with defamation and harassment — 34 Comments

  1. It will be interesting to see the slate of individuals who will oppose this Council and this Mayor in the next election. I look forward to it, in fact. Granted, I would have supported Maja Tait in the previous election regardless – but that is no longer true.

    Show me a slate of candidates that believe in genuine transparency and a candidate for Mayor doesn’t engage in using “safe space” language to infer harassment or defamation when actions of the staff are challenged and see where my time, money, and effort go.

    The correct response would have been for the Mayor and rest of Council to order – not request – the CAO and her staff to immediately return to the meeting and a refusal to do so should have been met with appropriate disciplinary action. No matter what Ms Sullivan says, these people work for us. It’s simple, if you get paid with taxpayer dollars you are doing your work for and on behalf of the taxpayers.

    • I’m a legal academic. They used the concepts of defamation and harassment out of place. Defamation isn’t asking or even insinuating wrong doing. All they’d have to do is refute it to halt the questioning. But instead they actually gave cause to think Hall’s insinuations were accurate. In any case, if they followed through with a claim in defamation, the court would have to find out who is more accurate, and I don’t think the District wants this to happen. This kind of process would also be open to public record.

      Moreover, it makes no sense to claim defamation because there are no heads of damages – who lost what here because of Hall’s questions? This is very unclear. Hall didn’t name a person in her dialogue. So the accusation and use of this concept for this purpose is for the stiflement of inconvenient questioning and dissent, not for a relevant claim of defamation. Or at least it would need to be proven in court, so until that happens, it’s a legal threat, not a validated claim.

      In any case, they’d need to prove defamation or harassment in court, not just act as if these things actually occurred. An additional confusion here is that they conflate defamation with harassment. They’re not necessarily mutually inclusive. Just because you think you’re defamed doesn’t mean harassment. They’re two different concepts. And harassment is not what went on in this video.

      I watched the walkout video and think that the entire thing was a hot embarrassment.

  2. This is a total wrong!! Those people work for all of the taxpayers in Sooke!!
    The mayor & all of the council should step aside & stop costing all of us the money that is paid to them. I think that we have had enough of their incompetences . Shame on all the staff!!

  3. So as Council won’t discipline staff and supports that they are being bullied by being asked to clarify a financial procedure with our tax money, what is the next step? They have access to lawyers, I think it’s time that the public had a lawyer to demand some answers. Ask anyone if they feel harassed by Mayor and staff when they come to council meetings?

  4. Thanks for publishing it and keeping the taxpayers informed. This mayor and counsel are unbelievable. Walking out because you don’t like a legitimate question from a taxpayers. Terrible!

  5. Maybe Gail Hall is correct & the staff walkout was their way to cover up what they are doing???

  6. How do I put myself forward for the next election? The pure manipulation used, in an attempt to ignore and bypass public opinion or input, is shocking and quite transparent to those outside of the councils bubble.
    I’d like to be a positive part of Sooke. I’d expect the same from the public elected officials.

  7. I am utterly gobsmacked, quite frankly! What is the point of holding a Public forum when we, as the Public, are unable to pose legitimate questions or concerns to those who are paid (by us, the taxpaying Public) to represent and act on behalf of our best interests?

  8. This behaviour by council was absolutely unacceptable. They have forgotten that they answer to the public and taxpayers that elected them? Do they think they can just run and hide when faced with a tough question? This was obviously preplanned by council. Everyone of them should be absolutely ashamed of themselves and probably out of a job come next election. Hiding behind the bullshit excuse of “bullying and harrassment”. This is completely and 100% of what is wrong with the majority of our elected officials from the municipal level right up to the federal level and why our country is in the shape it is in.

  9. This is absolutely absurd! As a young member of this community I am going to start paying extra close attention to this! Thankyou for publishing this! It needs to be seen!!

  10. The thing that was going through my mind while I was reading this article was…… “WOW”.
    It would be interesting to interview the councillors so that we could hear their side of the story also.
    It seems very odd to me that they wouldn’t step up to the plate and simply answer what seems like a fair and legitimate question. What could be simpler?
    By not answering the question it makes me feel that they must have something to hide. This is only my opinion. It raises red flags for me.

  11. Why should we the Citizens of Sooke show respect to the Mayor, Council and Staff when they do not show any respect to us ?

    It makes you wonder how they can sleep at night, absolutely shameful !

  12. Thankyou for printing this. I am so disappointed in Mayor Tait I thought she would make a difference, I thought wrong and she and her council have to go along with her bully CEO Teresa Sullivan, it seems to me that she seems to be the root of the problem.

  13. Agree with the comments here. Whether one agrees with her or not, Ms.Hall’s a citizen who cares, and watches doing Sooke a favor overseeing the workings of council and Mayor. I don’t know all the legal stuff, but last time I looked, she has a right to voice an opinion in Canada. 2 minutes??…then the mayor repeatedly interrupts..who’s being bullied here? She could get more than 2 minutes on the local TV news, or as long as she wants on youtube. Yah…when’s the next election?

  14. I’m going to respectfully disagree with the comments here and the blog post as well.

    As for the time limit, if you listen carefully to the video, Ms. Hall asks the chair as she approaches if there is a time limit to which the mayor replies: two minutes.

    If you watch the entire council meeting, you will see that the time limit is standard. The blogger implies that this time limit was specifically placed on Ms. Hall but if you watch the previous speaker, who happens to be the blogger in this instance, she was also given a two minute time limit to which she did not object. If you watch earlier public speakers on the parking issue on Horne, they were also given two minutes to address council. So nothing underhanded was going on in that respect.

    As for the concerns voiced by Ms. Hall that prompted staff to leave the meeting, they were accusatory. She really didn’t ask a question. She just stated ‘this is illegal, council is being misled” and other comments to that effect. The mayor was correct, in my opinion, to allow staff leave at that point. They are civic employees and as such do not have to be subjected to those type of allegations (whether the allegations are true or not). There are other avenues to address concerns of illegal activities by public employees.

    Having said that, I want to state that I don’t believe there was anything illegal or untoward in staff’s address to council. I believe it was simply a ‘housekeeping’ item.

    As I understand it, council has passed motions on budgetary items that exceed the previously adopted budget. These items were listed by Ms. Santowski (the blogger in this instance) and they included big budget items like the salary of the new fire chief. Staff was pointing out that if council passes budget items that are outside of the previously adopted budget, then they must also pass a bylaw or motion that states they are aware they have exceeded the budget.

    I am new to Sooke and I don’t know the history behind this animosity to the civic staff. I don’t know the mayor, councillors, any staff members or any of the public speakers involved. I’m just making an observation to this blog post as well as posts that have been put on Sooke Social Facebook group.

    I believe that it’s probably true that bylaw 658 should have been passed at the time the budgetary changes and increases were adopted, but it’s not unusual for boards to recognize procedural errors and correct them at a later date.

    I understand these increases in the budget will be and should be a concern to tax payers as they could have an impact on their property taxes. However, most municipalities have contingency funds or other budgetary funds to draw from and so even if the budget is increased or exceeded, it does not necessarily follow that taxes will increase.

    Budgets are not written in stone. They are a guideline. If circumstances dictate that the board cannot meet the budget expectations or will exceed them, then I think the responsible thing to do is to recognize that, make the necessary changes with full knowledge of the impact on the community. From what I saw in this video, that is exactly what council was trying to achieve, with the assistance from their staff.

  15. The actions taken that night were very disheartening. Staff walking out on a member of our community is rude, un called for and extremely unprofessional. I’ve watched the video many times and can see no reason for this extreme action. If I did this at a job, I would face being fired. Did Teresa Sullivan put other staffers jobs at possible risk for her own personal agenda? and for what? because she didn’t want to answer some valid questions? That is her JOB! I’m so disappointed in the Mayor for playing along with the victim game, she doesn’t appear to be a good leader of staff or have the communities best interests in mind.

  16. I would be pretty pissed if someone told me I was conducting illegal activity while lawfully doing my job. Sometimes enough is enough.

  17. I would be pretty pissed if someone told me I was conducting illegal activity while lawfully doing my job. Sometimes enough is enough.

    • If someone incorrectly accused me of illegal behavior, I would do everything in my power to prove that wasn’t the case. I would look at what to do to ensure the misunderstanding didn’t happen in the future. The council should be ashamed of their actions, even if their actions are 100% legal.

  18. wouldn’t you wait to see what that person had to say in regard to his or her opinion on why something, in their opinion, is illegal and then respond as to why it is not, rather than walk away and never hear the question…if you are doing something that is against the law and,maybe or maybe not, you don’t know that, wouldn’t you want to know?

  19. Wasn’t the walk out planned ahead of time? Didn’t CEO Teresa Sullivan instruct staff that this would take place if she herself was not pleased with any public comments?

  20. From the BC Supreme COurt – Dixon v Powell River, City of

     In this case, I agree with the judgments in the Halton Hills and Montague cases in which the justices decided that governments cannot sue for defamation for damage to their governing reputations.  The Charter enshrined value of freedom of expression is paramount and local governments have resort to other means to protect their reputations from citizens who publish critical commentary about the government itself.  In Prince George, Aikins J.A. considered and rejected the freedom of speech argument advanced by the plaintiffs, and held that a local government could sue for defamation on the same basis as any corporation.  That reasoning cannot withstand Charter scrutiny.  As Sharpe J.A. said in Cusson at para. 125:

    It is hardly necessary to repeat here the importance of the rights protected by s. 2(b) of the Charter, namely “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication”.  These rights are an inherent aspect of our system of government and have been generously interpreted by the courts.  Democracy depends upon the free and open debate of public issues and the freedom to criticize the rich, the powerful and those, such as police officers, who exercise power and authority in our society.  Freedom of expression extends beyond political debate to embrace the “core values” of “self-fulfilment”, “the communal exchange of ideas”, “human dignity and the right to think and reflect freely on one’s circumstances and condition”:  R.W.D.S.U. v. Pepsi-Cola, 2002 SCC 8 (CanLII), [2002] 1 S.C.R. 156 at para. 32.  Debate on matters of public interest will often be heated and criticism will often carry a sting and yet open discussion is the lifeblood of our democracy.  This court recognized in R. v. Kopyto (1987), 1987 CanLII 176 (ON CA), 62 O.R. (2d) 449 at 462 that “[i]f these exchanges are stifled, democratic government itself is threatened.”

    Dixon won the case against the city though no injunction for further letters was granted