(Quebec) Municipal officials want to be equipped to defend against hateful and defamatory comments considered on social networks. An insurance program to cover their legal fees if they want to pursue citizens for damage to their reputations will be launched next winter by the Union of Quebec Municipalities (UMQ). The organization ensures that the process is not intended to muzzle citizens or the media.
“It is not a tool to be used to silence citizens,” says the outset spokesman UMQ, Patrick Lemieux, about what will be a Canadian first. “He really used in cases of harassment, hate speech, defamatory or affecting privacy,” he adds.
“It is rather a tool to send a clear message to the effect that the elected officials and senior municipal officials are not punching bags, illustrates Mr. Lemieux. We talk about fight against bullying in different areas, but it has to also applies in the municipal sector. ”
The idea of such an insurance policy that will soon be the subject of a tender to find an interested firm, was born in the light of recent examples where elected were taken to task by citizens or groups.
The mayor of Saint-Mathias-sur-Richelieu, Jocelyne G. Deswarte, currently pursuing a political opponent for statements deemed defamatory on a Facebook page.
Another example in the Outaouais, where the mayor of Chelsea, Caryl Green, did not find funny at all a fake Twitter account in his name.
Without being able to advance specific numbers, spokesman UMQ ensures that the phenomenon is increasing as a result of the explosion of the use of social networks. For better and for worse. For if these new technological tools allow greater proximity and interaction with citizens, they also make them elect more “vulnerable” to the hate speech ahead Mr. Lemieux.
In Quebec, municipalities assume the defense of an elected sued, but does not apply where a mayor or a councilor decides to sue for damage to his reputation.
On the other hand, the chosen profession is not always full time and take legal action can be very expensive. “Sometimes the pay is not very high,” says Lemieux. Such a measure, he said, “will limit the cost to taxpayers,” including stopping the temptation to pass the buck to attorney fees.
So far, hundreds of municipalities have shown interest in the project. Last week, the newspaper The Regional Eye revealed that the mayor of Beloeil, Diane Lavoie, has already announced that it wants to join the program by paying the insurance premium.
Although it is still in development, this financial protection should cover legal fees, so if elected is to continue as he started himself appeals to defend his reputation.
Prosecutions in all directions?
At the UMQ, Patrick Lemieux insists that clear guidelines be established and elected will not be able to use this funding to continue in all directions.
“It is not because a citizen will open a Facebook page to criticize the management of the municipal administration that automatically elected officials will be able to continue and use the insurance coverage for that. This really is to very exceptional cases, “he has said.
Same thing for the media, we are assured. “If a journalist makes death threats or intimidation very obvious, perhaps it could be used, shows Patrick Lemieux. Not if the mayor does not agree with its local weekly. ”
In Quebec City, the spokesman David O’Brien said it will not comment because the program is “still in development”.
Same answer the office of Minister of Municipal Affairs, Pierre Moreau, where political advisor Jean-Félix Lévesque remained stingy comments, arguing that this is all about “the UMQ services to its members.”