A 2019 Chilliwack School Board meeting. (Jessica Peters/ Progress file)

A 2019 Chilliwack School Board meeting. (Jessica Peters/ Progress file)

OPINION: Elected officials shouldn’t edit video feeds of public meetings

Chilliwack school district seeking a legal opinion about recording of board meetings

Part of the role of media is to follow what elected officials and senior staff at public agencies are doing, to pay attention to what is being done by whom, when, where, how and why.

And when it comes to covering the decisions by public officials at places like city hall and the school board, public meetings are the iceberg we watch from our rickety media boats, rocking on the waves, wondering what is going on in the 90 per cent that lies beneath the water — behind closed doors.

Occasionally, a whistleblower, a leaked document or FOI request gives a glimpse of the hidden iceberg, but mostly the meetings and willingness of public officials to talk are all we’ve got. (Of course, most of what goes on behind closed doors is also banal and boring and bureaucratic and not in the public interest.)

“Public meetings” sometimes, however, don’t feel as open as they should. This isn’t new, but I feel some frustration with the urge by those inside public agencies in Canada to work with opacity in the face of a democratic need for transparency.

• READ MORE: OPINION: The principal of open courts and freedom of the press is not trivial

At an Oct. 9 special regular Chilliwack Board of Education meeting, something happened between disruptive attendees and the board chair. Trustee Heather Maahs was talking about protecting students from homeless people in and around The Portal downtown. A member of the public is heard to say “here, here!” Then someone else said something, but I couldn’t hear what it was on the recording on the school district’s YouTube feed.

Then, at 49:41 the feed cut out. At 52:16, it was back on. Board Chair Dan Coulter asks: “Are we back on?”

Beyond my own curiosity, I don’t care too much what happened. I’m told it was along the lines of a disruptive and disrespectful attendee losing his or her cool. What I care about is that the feed got cut to a public meeting. If the instinctual response to an uncomfortable exchange or a disruptive attendee at a public meeting is to shut down the video feed so that the members of the public who are not in the room can’t see or hear, something is wrong.

Did the school board chair also asks those in attendance to avert their eyes and plug their ears lest they hear/see something uncalled for? If I was present, and they cut the feed and I then fired up a Facebook Live video, would I have been asked to stop?

At the Nov. 26 school board meeting, Trustee Heather Maahs brought forward an action item to get the Board of Education to “seek a legal opinion regarding what circumstances a board is entitled to edit its board meetings.” Note that a meeting can’t be edited; what she meant was the video feed.

“I would like to clarify if it is the chair’s right to stop a meeting,” Maahs said, adding that she was not opposed to it happening when necessary.

Secretary-treasurer Gerry Slykhuis said he spoke to a retired superintendent who suggested that the district might be at risk of using a live feed in case someone says something slanderous or releases private information about a student.

“This is a business meeting,” he said, suggesting that the live feed might be giving people a platform to disrupt.

Huh? I’m sorry, but that is ridiculous. These are public meetings. Members of the public are welcome to sit in the gallery. Sharing the meeting on a video feed online does nothing to increase legal liability. All it does is change the size of the audience.

“The board is subject to legalities, whether you don’t film or you do,” Trustee Darrell Furgason rightly pointed out. “The secretary-treasurer seemed to be saying this is simply a business meeting. No it’s not. It’s public transparency…. The press are here too. The press can report whatever they want without the video.”

Exactly. And if no one from the press is present, we can now watch it online, as has been done for years at city hall. If a meeting’s video can be cut or otherwise edited, that’s a violation of the public’s right to know.

Democracy is often ugly, and it’s usually messy. If we are lucky, at the best of times, it’s just boring.

Watch or don’t watch, behave or don’t behave, comment or don’t comment. But don’t censor the boring, the messy or the ugly.

A public meeting is the tip of the iceberg but it’s usually all we’ve got.


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Future Finlandia Lion Ian Heagy with his biggest fan, mom Jen Heagy. (submitted photo)
Chilliwack hockey player Ian Heagy defies the odds to land at Finlandia

Having never played a minute of rep, Heagy is making the jump from house to NCAA Div 2 hockey

The Abbotsford Centre has the ability to host AHL level games if the Vancouver Canucks or any other NHL team chose to move its affiliate to the arena. (File photo)
Abbotsford Centre ready for AHL if right opportunity presents itself

Building recently upgraded glass and boards, schedule would allow for AHL tenant

Brian Combes after getting keys to his new house on April 9, 2021. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Homeless no more on Skwah First Nation after 20 years

Brian Combes gets the keys to his newly built home near Chilliwack

In 2012, police in Abbotsford placed surveillance cameras near the Dhaliwal home in the 2500 block of Bradner Road after there were two drive-by shootings in the area. Harb Dhaliwal, 31, has now been identified as the victim of a fatal shooting April 17 in Vancouver. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Abbotsford man named as victim of fatal weekend shooting in Vancouver

Harpreet Dhaliwal, 31, killed outside of Cardero’s restaurant in Coal Harbour

Joudelie King wants to get out and live life to the fullest, but there are places she can’t go because they don’t meet her accessibility needs. (submitted photo)
New online tool provides accessibility map for people with disabilities

The myCommunity BC map provides accessibility info for nearly 1,000 locations in the province

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
B.C. health authority seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

Chakalaka Bar and Grill plans to continue serving customers without public health compliance

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. to open up AstraZeneca vaccines for all people 40+, set up clinics in hot spots

A total of 13 neighbourhoods and communities will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine

Most Read