Time to turn down the thermostat on defamation threats in Penticton

(Victoria, 11 September 2014) – Penticton city council needs to set down guidelines on the issuance of lawyer’s letters following Mayor Garry Litke’s arbitrary decision to have one sent to Elvena Slump, age 75, demanding apologies for alleged defamatory comments related to three senior staff at City Hall.

“At best the letter was ill-advised and at worse it was foolhardy for one simple reason – the same one Brian Mulroney learned at the hands of Solange Denis – don’t mess with seniors,” said IntegrityBC executive director Dermod Travis.

In 1985, Denis confronted Mulroney on Parliament Hill after then finance minister, Michael Wilson, announced plans to de-index old age pensions. Denis’s “you lied” shouted at Mulroney and captured on national television ultimately forced the government to back down from its cuts.

In drafting guidelines, Penticton should consider those at the provincial level where the filing of defamation suits can only be commenced if the province’s Legal Services Branch provides the administrator with a legal opinion that there’s a cause of action.

IntegrityBC has reviewed nearly three dozen letters to the editor from Slump and while some of those letters may get under the skin of some at city hall, many of the concerns she raises are shared by residents in other municipalities across B.C.

Slump has taken issue with in camera council meetings and the reasons for those closed-door meetings. For many local governments in B.C., in camera meetings have almost become standard operating procedure, with little or no regard to the purpose, length or the number of items under consideration.

In 2011, Toronto’s city council – in a city with an operating budget of $9.6 billion – had 17 in camera meetings. Nineteen items were under consideration at those meetings and all told they lasted less than 17 hours. In 2012, while they considered 24 items, they did so in fewer sessions (13) and in less time. All data that is readily available from the City of Toronto’s website.

In Ontario, citizens can also complain to that province’s ombudsman if they believe an in camera meeting was improperly held.

Slump has also rightly pointed to another growing problem at city halls in B.C.: secrecy. And it’s a trait that breeds distrust among citizens.

“Councils should operate from one simple principle: if you don’t have anything to hide, don’t hide it,” said Travis. “If a decision or an expense was authorized, politicians should stand by it. And if it wasn’t authorized then they have even bigger problems.”


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For more information:

Dermod Travis, Executive Director