Request to view video refused

District can’t disclose information that could invade ‘personal privacy’

A freedom of information request to view the video of the entire Maple Ridge committee of the whole meeting on June 17 has been rejected by the district’s freedom of information officer, Ceri Marlo.

The request was made by The News after the video was removed from the district website, then reposted with some parts of the video excised.

According to Mayor Ernie Daykin, the video was removed because some comments by Coun. Corisa Bell could be considered defamatory, according to the district’s lawyer.

“Legal counsel has offered an opinion that the possibility exists that your remarks could give rise to an action in defamation,” Daykin told Bell in a June 25 letter.

The legal action could come from the staff member involved.

The district could be liable if it republished those comments by posting the video on its website, the mayor said in a letter to Bell.

But in the letter from Marlo, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act is cited as justification for not releasing the video.

Under the act, the district can’t disclose information that would “unreasonably invade the personal privacy” of a third party.

“The act gives the district no discretion in such cases – we are legally obligated to refuse access.”

She writes in her explanation that the comments can be described in general terms as a “negative, critical assessment” of the performance of an identifiable employee.

Marlo adds that “public exposure of untested allegations by a council member about an employee’s performance may unfairly damage the employee’s reputation …” – something which must be considered under the FOI act.

That’s why such matters are usually dealt with in closed meetings.

The comments also were ruled out of order by the chair, which is a critical factor because it shows that the chair considered that the matter wasn’t fully discussed.

However, media lawyer David F. Sutherland said earlier that comments in a public meeting are unlikely to lead to a lawsuit.

“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.

Sutherland said if publishing what happens at a council meeting has an ulterior motive, there is a limit to the privilege, but it’s not exceeded by a councillor’s questioning of budgets at a council meeting.

“That is really highly unlikely,” he said. “There are so many other checks and balances.”

Councillors are in the business of public service, he added.

“The idea that somebody’s private reputation should interfere in the dissemination of information about what goes on in the public sphere is really troublesome to me.”

Bell has seen the video and her lawyer can view the video at municipal hall. Her lawyer also can get his or her own copy.

Bell maintains the video should be public.