People who send correspondence to North Cowichan council will no longer have their names automatically redacted on council’s consent agenda, as has been the municipality’s practice for years, but all other personal information will still be kept private.
Council made that decision at its meeting on Feb. 1, but a recommendation from staff that writers to council have the option of not having their names disclosed if they choose was not considered as no council member would second the motion, and no discussion of the issue was held.
Michelle Martineau, North Cowichan’s manager of legislative services, made it clear to council that its decision means writers of correspondence to the municipality won’t have a choice and their names will no longer be redacted.
At its meeting on Jan. 18, council directed staff to make changes to its consent-agenda policy after the receipt of an email from a local resident requesting council review the policy.
The letter writer, whose name was redacted, said North Cowichan’s policy of deleting the author’s name from correspondence on the agenda for council meetings goes too far.
They said this is inconsistent with the policies of other municipalities, including the City of Duncan, which do make the name public, but redact other personal information such as email and home address.
Coun. Christopher Justice said at that meeting the letter writer argues that deleting authors’ names from correspondence on council’s consent agenda is unnecessary to meet North Cowichan’s obligations under B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
He said he agrees with the author and moved that council amend its policy so that names are no longer automatically redacted from correspondence.
But CEO Ted Swabey said if the policy is to be changed, council should allow the opportunity for people who write council who are uncomfortable for safety reasons to not include their personal information.
“It is a conservative policy, but in the past we have had breaches where doctors and other people, due to all sorts of scenarios, have preferred that their private information not be provided,” he said.
“So I’d recommend that if people don’t want to provide that information, that you’d allow that.”
Coun Tek Manhas said he would prefer to see names and addresses provided, except for those who are not comfortable sharing that information.
“I’d like to see people’s addresses so we would know whether writers are residents of North Cowichan or from somewhere else, especially on issues that are decisive in the community,” he said.
Swabey said in this era of social media, when issues get divisive, people pick up names and email addresses and start arguing online about these individuals.
“I think this does impact democracy and people’s willingness to come forward and state who they are and what their position is,” he said.
“So we are conservative, no doubt more than some other municipalities, but that’s something to think about.”
Alyssa Meiner, North Cowichan’s information management officer, said at the meeting on Jan. 18 that she has discussed the issue with legal counsel.
She said, to clarify, North Cowichan takes a privacy-protection approach to its consent-agenda policy.
“The individual’s name is personal information and that’s why we don’t disclose it,” Meiner said.
“We actually have never been asked to disclose it in the past. We have, in fact, been asked not to disclose an individual’s address specifically. An example of that are physicians who don’t want their patients to know their address.”
But Meiner pointed out that it would be possible to justify the disclosure of a person’s name as an author of correspondence going to council under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, if that’s the direction council wants to take.
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