Colunnist Takes On Police Board Speech Curbs

My former Citizen colleague Mohammed Adam wrote one of the most important pieces of local journalism this year earlier in November:

The Ottawa Police Service Board’s new rules for public meetings are a clear violation of citizens’ right to free speech, and concerned community groups are right to seek redress in court. Ottawa residents have a good opportunity to stand behind these groups and repel the board’s assault on free expression.

It all began in February when the new board amended a procedure bylaw to impose not only a one-hour limit on public presentations, but also require speakers to submit their remarks in writing ahead of any meeting. In a striking departure from past practice, the bylaw says people can only speak at meetings with the board’s permission and, worse, all requests to speak “will require approval by the Chair” who now is Royal Ottawa Hospital psychiatrist Dr. Gail Beck.

Think about this: In a free society, the police board, which deals with issues that affect all citizens, has given its chair the power to veto what people have to say, and even decide if they can speak at all. In effect, if the chair doesn’t like what someone or a group thinks, she can shut them down. Potentially, a group the board disagrees with, or any critic, can be muzzled and denied the right to speak — and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

There is no mechanism to challenge this. The chair merely informs the board of her decision to bar someone from speaking, and that’s it. If this is not an attack on free speech, nothing will ever be.

To read all of Adam’s column, click here.


To read about the court case, click here. To read Dr. Beck’s response to the Adam column, click here.

The board, which once met at Ottawa City Hall but now most of its meetings are virtual, has the mayor and two councillors on it as well as provincial appointees. It appears to be following the old dictum of former mayor Jim Watson in whose steps Mayor Mark Sutcliffe follows that if there’s bad news, try to bury it.

Ken Gray

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