Quebec Town Makes It Illegal To Insult Police Officers And Other Public Officials

from the hi,-I'm-a-non-resident-and-I'd-like-to-insult-you dept

I’m not sure where so many public officials get the idea that the job is best-suited to those with the thinnest skin.

Be careful what you write about police officers online — if you live in Granby, Que., you could get slapped with a hefty fine.

The municipality about an hour outside of Montreal is seeking the right to issue fines ranging from $100 to $1,000 to people caught insulting police officers or municipal employees on the internet.

Maybe it’s a Quebec thing? Here’s a TD post from way back discussing Rawdon, Quebec, which — in a postively Ardisian move — not only forced a site offline but sent the cops after the site owner.

The city council of the small town of Rawdon, Quebec (population: 9400) has managed to get a court order to shut down an online forum (French only) because its users were posting messages that were considered ‘defamatory and detrimental to the reputation’ of the elected board. Police raided the forum owner’s house, copied his entire hard drive and asked him to delete the offending posts, and when he said he had over 8,000 messages to look through, they did not specify which ones were specifically targeted.

But hey, #NotAllCanadiens. The South Pittsburg City, Tennessee has also done its part to ensure governing bodies aren’t stung by the harsh words of constituents.

The commissioners of a small Tennessee town have just voted to ban negative comments about it from social media. This stupid move was prompted by “criticism and lies” being posted online, which supposedly “hampered” the town’s government from performing its duties.

Granby’s bylaw rewrite didn’t originate from the bruised feels of council members or city commissioners, but rather from its police force, which found Kevlar body armor may be great for stopping bullets, but does little to stop hurtful words.

The move comes after town officials discovered a Facebook page called Les policiers zélé de Granby — The Zealous Police of Granby.

And, of course, defenders are stepping up to explain that this is no more than an extension of stupid, previously-existent bylaw.

According to Catherine Bouchard, the director of legal services for Granby, a bylaw already exists for face-to-face insults and has been used in recent years for online slurs.

In order to raise the level of online discourse, insults directed at a select group of people — public servants — must be criminalized. The deputy mayor’s justification is even worse.

“In my opinion, if I threaten you via my keyboard, it’s as though I am making that threat right in front of you.… For me, it’s the same thing,” said Robert Riel, Granby’s deputy mayor.

Threats are a criminal offense and I would assume there are laws in place to address these. Insults — whether they’re face-to-face or from behind keyboards — are just the end result of the world being filled with people that aren’t always pleasant. If the insult rises to the level of defamation, there’s legal recourse for that. If the insults turn into harassment, again, turn to the law.

But all of these different forms of unprotected speech are being thrown in with protected speech under a single, badly-written bylaw. Statements from the town’s lawyer throw out terms like “slurs,” “defamation” and “insults” as though they were all legally interchangeable, making her grasp of the law appear every bit as tenuous as the deputy mayor’s.

And then there’s this:

“If you put something out on the internet, I don’t know what the expectation of privacy is,” Bouchard said.

“Let’s say I write something about you that’s derogatory or that’s insulting … do I have the freedom to write anything about you?

“Your freedom of speech does not give you the right to say anything about anybody you want in an insulting manner. I can’t destroy your reputation and who you are because I have freedom of speech.”

Well, actually you can destroy a citizen’s reputation, Ms. Bouchard. You see, the bylaw only protects city officials from insults, not the general public. Cops and council members can retaliate against those who have hurt their feelings by sending a suddenly-motivated police force to cite offenders.

Bouchard and those voting for this act as though free speech is zero sum. Bouchard acts like public figures would have no other way to counter online insults if it wasn’t for this skewed law. The same online platforms and forums can be accessed both by the public and their representatives. But this bylaw can only be used by public figures.

The Huffington Post coverage notes that the local police hadn’t offered any comment, but were “eagerly awaiting” the results of the vote. I bet they were. I’m sure there’s a few officers who can’t wait to take down the people behind the “insulting” Facebook page — those clever malcontents who thought they were above the law when they expressed themselves using protected speech.

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Comments on “Quebec Town Makes It Illegal To Insult Police Officers And Other Public Officials”

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Padpaw (profile) says:

Re: Re:

that’s also the requirement for not randomly shooting people just because you have a gun or torturing then shooting peoples pets. Yet that doesn’t stop corrupt cops or their defenders from doing it.

It’s almost like we need a police force to police the police. Or maybe we should get rid of the criminals on the police ranks instead of bending over backwards for their every little faux pau

John Fenderson (profile) says:

I beg to differ

“Your freedom of speech does not give you the right to say anything about anybody you want in an insulting manner.”

Actually, yes it does. Freedom of speech means that I can say things about people in as insulting a manner as I wish, just as people can say things about me in as insulting a manner as they wish.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I beg to differ

Free speech in Canada isn’t the same as free speech in the US. Canadian law (Charter of Rights and Freedoms) allows limits that are reasonable and justified. If the insult directed at you were obscene or blasphemous, the person insulting you may be breaking the law.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The article above, with a couple of small asides, is about a town in Quebec, Canada.

Also, while I am not a great student of Canadian founding law and there is an entire hemisphere called America with north, south, and central parts, I do believe that the “First Amendment” mentioned is strictly a United States of America thing.

What exactly are you missing?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Not sure what you point is, but that article really conflict with the above article. Actually, they seem to agree. Maybe you aren’t understanding the time line laid out in the above article. Might be a little complicated for a person that thinks a simple search turns up all answers.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think kenichi is trying to argue that in researching and commenting on an article from April 23rd, Tim should have realized that on May 5th the vote passed.

Then again, non-crystal-ball-readers have no idea when this article was written and originally presented for publication. So the changes to the situation 2 days ago may not have happened when this was written.

kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

Yeah. I thought that techdirt does research on articles being written before they are published on the site. In this case, nobody at techdirt did any research on the article since the article was posted today.

All it took for me to find this information was less than five minutes to search Google. The article states that the vote hadn’t happened yet when it actually has. Since the links in the article above were from April 23rd, it appears that nobody did any background on this new addition to Quebec’s law before they published the article on the site.

I wasn’t being mean when I posted, just stating that Techdirt could stand to research the articles it posts to ensure that the article has updated, factual information.


Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not really sure where the problem is kenchi.

The article’s headline is in the past tense and the first paragraph of the HuffPo link is:

Insulting a police officer or municipal official on the internet has been made illegal in the town of Granby, Que., after the council voted unanimously tonight in favour of beefing up an already controversial bylaw.

But that is besides the point anyways – this article is an opinion piece on the bylaw itself and not a news report about it. You were able to Google the information fairly quickly, so I assume that any moron could also do so.

And once again: Learn to threaded mode! or at the very least quote something from who you are responding to, otherwise your comments make even less sense than usual because most everyone else views Techdirt in threaded mode.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

a few notes: I will second gWiz’s note, as I can not tell if you are responding to my comment or the AC’s. I think the AC’s, as I have to repeat myself on the matter of time of writing =/= time of posting. Commentary grabbed from the insider chat box suggests that crystal ball readers have access to most Techdirt articles significantly in advance, including several which are never published. This indicates that this article, commenting on information from the 23rd, could have been submitted on the 4th, precluding the inclusion of data from the 5th. Or perhaps the research (on an article from the 23rd) was done prior to the 5th and so the change in status occurred after the research period.

Moreover, the fact that the bill has been voted on changes none of the facts presented in this article except for the fact that the bill has passed since the article being referenced was published. Therefore, it still has factual information that has been researched.

You dont know when the article was researched or written, so how can you decide that research wasn’t performed?

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

So if I do this...

So, if I call my local Congressperson an idiot (he is), much like the Mayor of Granby, then both can have me arrested for a) insulting them, or worse b) defamation of character because they could claim that they can prove they aren’t idiots? Well, I’d call them either idiots or morons, but that would be an insult to idiots and morons everywhere! Let’s just call them what they are, incompetent dickheads!

Stan (profile) says:

Fine Schedule of Fines

The City Council has established a Fee Schedule of Fines for ‘defamatory and detrimental’ comments.

$100 fine for saying: Stinky, doo-doo head or fart-face
$200 fine for saying: your mother wears army boots
$300 fine for saying: brain-damaged armpit-sniffer
$400 fine for saying: killer of cute puppies
$500 fine for saying: torturer of cute kittens
$600 fine for saying: butt-puss-sucking used car salesman
$700 fine for saying: incessant You-Tube video poster
$800 fine for saying: AOL user
$900 fine for saying: morphodite pig-fucker
$1000 fine for saying: shit-eating mom-raping necrophiliac

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