A citizen has made a formal Freedom of Information (FOI) request at Maple Ridge district hall, asking for the complete, unedited video of the council meeting that the district says contains defamatory comments.
Nicole Read wants access to the June 17 committee of the whole video. She also wants to see any paper trail that led to the video being removed from the municipal website, and has also asked for any correspondence, reports or emails that demonstrate the reason and decision to deny public access to the full video.
Coun. Corisa Bell questioned the district budget at that meeting.
The video of that meeting was first removed from the website, reviewed by district lawyers, then edited and re-posted several weeks later.
Read specifically asked for any document that is or mentions a formal defamation complaint resulting for Bell’s statements or discussion.
Read, who allows that she has developed a trust of Bell and believes “her heart is in the right place,” said the present situation casts the councillor in a poor light because the public is left wondering if she has done something wrong.
Read said in her letter to council: “Related or not, this transpired mere days after Coun. Corisa Bell filed a formal complaint regarding comments made to her by Chief Administrative Officer Jim Rule, following which Coun. Bell requested that the mayor suspend Rule.”
Read later said that she made the FOI request because of the public’s interest in government transparency.
“The timeline of events makes me uncomfortable,” she said.
“It leaves the idea Corisa did something wrong, without the public being able to determine the merit of that claim.”
In dealing with council about other matters, Read has noticed Bell is generally almost apologetic as she asks for more information, and believes the first-time councillor’s questions have not been well received.
Read said the defamation claim raises a new concern that elected officials are expected to be careful in questioning or criticizing district staff.
“In the political process, there’s an expectation that there has to be a level of scrutiny applied in order for there to be rigour in the process,” she said.
Can politicians hold staff members accountable publicly, she asks.
“Where does that leave councillors down the road, when they have to push back to get information,” Read asks.
Libel Lawyer David F. Sutherland previously said that recordings of public meetings have “qualified privilege,” meaning they’re largely protected from legal action from what was said at them.
“There’s a very wide protection for a fair and accurate report, which a videotape would be, of a council meeting,” under Sec. 4 of the Libel and Slander Act.”
Read believes there is a good possibility her request to see the entire video will be denied, and she is prepared to pursue the matter at a higher level. She does FOI requests in her career, and is familiar with the process.
Read said she hopes the mayor and council consider her request carefully, and with legal guidance.
“With all the hoopla, we deserve to see the video, and decide for ourselves.”
Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin said the FOI process is handled confidentially. He would not comment on the matter, only that it will be handled by Ceri Marlo, the manager of legislative services.
“Council does not have any say in what information is supplied,” said the mayor.