Another Sad Day for Collingwood


It’s sad to see any council devolve into pettiness and paranoia, but not surprising when this thin-skinned group does.

In a story on CollingwoodToday, council voted 4-3* to censor “fact-check” letters or comments from the public.

It’s so very Stalinist of them that they need staff to ensure the public’s comments march in step with the party line. What next? Purges? Gulags? Show trials? Oh wait, we already had that with the SVJI.

And what qualifications do staff have to read and censor “fact-check” public content? Are they trained for this in any way? Are they educated in journalistic investigative techniques? Are they widely-read polymaths with knowledge of dozens of fields and subjects? Who decrees whether any statement is factual or not?

What if, for example, a creationist comments about the presumed age of the earth? Do staff have to wade into a contentious religious debate and correct them, stating the scientific facts about geology and radioactive isotope dating, crossing out “6,000 years old” and writing in “14.54 billion years old”?

What if, say, a minister writing to ask for support for a food bank, suggests the demand has risen 150 percent. Will staff censor “fact-check” the figures to ensure the council is aware that the demand actually only rose 148 percent? If a resident writes to complain there are hundreds of potholes on their street, will staff race out to count them and censor “fact-check” to note there are actually only 89 potholes? This could easily become the theatre of the absurd (albeit fitting for this council).

Or is this role limited to censoring “fact-checking” only those writers and residents known to be critical of the party line? Perhaps just to those writers who contend that the already-excessive official figure of $8.2 million for the costs of the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) was actually much higher because it didn’t include hidden costs like the payments to sole-sourced consultants and lawyers appointed without proper tendering processes before the SVJI began, or the costs of staff time and expenses to accommodate the SVJI’s needs, or the $700,000 as-important-as-clean-drinking-water-reports-about-the-report that staff will be working on until at least next fall. or even the cost of the OPP investigation (which since 2014 has not found anyone guilty of anything). Why, some might think the cost is much higher, wasting closer to $10 million of taxpayers’ money than the official figure. I’m sure those writers will be sternly censored “fact-checked” for their temerity at challenging the party line.

Will members of the public whose writings have been censored “fact-checked” then be publicly shamed at the council table when the consent agenda is brought up for approval? Will councillors call them out, chastise them, accuse them of mendacity? Did I use the word “Stalinist” yet?

And do staff get to censor “fact-check” members of council as well? If, say, the mayor claims the pool and the new arena only have a ” lifespan of about 15 to 20 years” will staff censor “fact-check” him so the public is aware of the facts: that the outer skin has a guaranteed lifespan of 25 years (the same lifespan as the roof of a standard steel-and-brick building), but the frames have a guarantee not to corrode for 50 years!

The motion was brought forth by Councillor Berman, first touted in late January, although one wonders whose idea it really was. Berman is to date best known this term for his brilliant epigram, spoken during that earlier discussion:

“One plus one equals two.”

And I don’t wish to muddy the Politburo’s machinations, but there’s this curious little thing in Canada called the Constitution Act of 1982, that incorporated the inconvenient Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Based on this motion, I’m guessing that a majority of our council has not heard of that document. But let’s look at some snippets from it (emphasis added):

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.

24. (1) Anyone whose rights or freedoms, as guaranteed by this Charter, have been infringed or denied may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction to obtain such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances.

Over in the Department of Justice’s website, it notes (emphasis added),

The courts have applied the principle of content neutrality in defining the scope of section 2(b), such that the content of expression, no matter how offensive, unpopular or disturbing, cannot deprive it of section 2(b) protection (Keegstra, supra). Being content-neutral, the Charter also protects the expression of both truths and falsehoods (Canada (Attorney General) v. JTI-Macdonald Corp., [2007] 2 S.C.R. 610 at paragraph 60; R. v. Zundel, [1992] 2 S.C.R. 731 at paragraph 36; R. v. Lucas, [1998] 1 S.C.R. 439 at paragraph 25).

I’m not a lawyer, mind you, but this motion sure looks like censorship to me. As Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote, “…one must always consider the meaning and not the mere words.” (De Officiis (On Duties). 1.40)

I find it risible that, given his history as a blogger who was an acerbic critic of members of a former council and some town staff from 2012-14, and whose writing could easily be argued to have been a fount of misinformation, Berman would say, without any apparent sense of irony,

“All I wanted to do is our small part … to stop the spread of misinformation.”

Or was he just being disingenuous? I guess he doesn’t like it when the shoe is on the other foot. Well, it’s always been a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do council when it comes to ethics.

Collingwood deserves better.

* The story did not mention why Hull and Madigan did not participate in the virtual meeting. Perhaps they did not want to be tainted by the public uproar that resulted had they not supported their leader? Was it political cowardice? One only needs to think of how ex-President Trump fell upon “Moscow Mitch” McConnell when the latter failed to be utterly subservient and obsequious. Perhaps they fear the same here from their local leader if they didn’t vote yes on this motion like his more loyal subjects.

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