Context and Freedom of Speech questioned, Mckillop staff stressed

·9 min read

CAO Brandi Morisette read a letter she wrote to the council that was not on the public’s copy of the agenda on the day of the meeting but has since been added.

Morissette said she had concerns about the reporting by the Last Mountain Times and the reporter Jennifer Argue. She said the articles that have been published both in the paper and on the McKillop Taxpayer Network’s (MTN) Facebook page with comments under the postings had caused stress for the RM staff members.

Morissette referenced the most recent article regarding the First National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, September 30th, discussion. The article reported two different discussions at both the RM of McKillop council table and the council table at the Town of Nokomis.

The article reported what councillors, the Reeve and the CAO said around Truth and Reconciliation Day. At the end of the discussion, Councillor Don Whitrow made a joke about the day, which the CAO and another Councillor participated in, and others laughed.

Morissette said what happened “was grossly taken out of context.” She said the RM did not receive any follow-up calls before publishing the article, which Morisette said clearly showed the reporter’s bias and opinion of the discussion. Morisette said that had the reporter followed up after the meeting, she would have learned what the RM was planning on doing in recognition of the day, “but instead she chose to tell her side of the story.” Morisette claimed the article incited hate and never should have been published by the LMT.

Councillor Gilbert said he agreed with the CAO, and if the reporter reported what actually happened, it would not be misleading to the people who read the paper. Councillor Craig Romanyk said he agreed with Councillor Gilbert. Gilbert went on to say that the council has worked very hard since 2018 to bring the RM back to a profitable situation and a positive outlook on improving the RM for both the cottage and agricultural people and that it should be recognized. Councillor Marilyn Labatte said the articles were causing divisiveness between the two factions.

Councillor Garry Dixon referencing the reporter, said, “I’m curious to see what her objective is here with these kinds of comments and opinions, maybe she has a good objective in mind and I would sure like to hear that.”

Stepping back into the discussion, Morisette reiterated, “the point of my letter to council was just to ensure that council was aware that the information that is out there and how it affects their staff. We are not elected officials we work for council, or I work for council and the rest of the staff work for me.”

Councillor Howard Arndt lost internet connection after the CAO began to read her letter. Upon returning, the CAO updated him on what she said. Councillor Gilbert said, “and if you want a more detailed report you can read the next edition of the Last Mountain Times, it will be in there word for word.”

Arndt commented on the matter, saying, “A free press is an absolute requirement of our democracy, and we might not like what they say, we have to be very careful at the table.” He said that what happened during the Truth and Reconciliation discussion was a “disgusting show from our council and that is going to get into the news, that’s just the way it is.” He said whether there was context or not, “there was no context for it to be in.” Arndt said that “if we say things that we don’t want to have in the paper we better not say them, or we have to actually watch. We are under a microscope and every municipality and municipal meetings in here are. The Last Mountain Times are doing their job. We have to do ours.”

Morisette said that wasn’t the point of her letter. Seemingly unaware that Morisette had started to talk, Arndt said, “and Garry, that’s what I mean by conscience.”

Reeve Schmidt began to speak. He said, “there had been a lot of bias shown, a lot of twisted, negative reporting that has no place in this newspaper from a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter who is being paid by the federal government. And there is a contract in place for how the reporting is supposed to be done, and there is mechanisms that the council can hold them accountable for what they are doing and I think we should hold them accountable. Council should hold them accountable.”

Schmidt went on to say, “You are right the media is there, you can’t do anything about the media, but they have a right to report it properly.”

“They have to be held accountable and we will take whatever steps are required to hold them accountable.”

Arndt responded, “If what’s said in the meeting is put into the media and we have not included stuff they are doing exactly their job. If you want to try to hold them accountable you better have everything on the table for them. They don’t have to record more than what’s there.”

Schmidt said, “The local journalism initiative program was set up so that underserved communities across Canada got reporting. They are not allowed to write opinion pieces; they are writing opinion pieces which should be noted in the piece that it’s an opinion piece.”

Schmidt then said that the article on the Truth and Reconciliation discussion was an opinion piece. Arndt, speaking up, said, “I disagree completely, it was fact.”

Councillor Dixon added, “Freedom of speech only goes so far and you cannot incite people, incite bad behavior in the community, and I think this is what is starting to happen. And I think some people are starting to push the freedom of speech, be it Saskatchewan freedom of speech or the federal freedom of speech and expression. I don’t think it’s for the benefit. I don’t really read all of the articles, in fact I very seldom get the paper, but from what I hear, which is not a lot, I understand that people are starting to think that maybe this is pressing the boundary a bit on what is allowed on freedom of speech or freedom of expression because there are some people making comments based on those. And those bad comments come forward, that’s inciting them to do that.”

Arndt responded, “and Garry, that’s your opinion, I’m not hearing the same thing.”

Councillor Whitrow, who initiated the joke during the Truth and Reconciliation discussion, did not contribute to the current discussion but moved to accept the Administrator’s report. Reeve Schmidt asked if there was any more discussion. Councillor Arndt said, “We have to have significant more discussion on this. This council is creating problems by what its saying, how it’s saying it. This council is doing exactly what they accused my council of doing, except worse.” This comment elicited a laugh from Councillor Whitrow. Arndt continued, “And I said I was going to be a conscience of this council, I am not going to let this go. We really have to have a serious discussion on how we present ourselves and what we are doing and showing that we are fair and equitable in our actions.”

Councillor Whitrow responded, “Howard, I don’t have a problem with you being your own conscience but don’t be mine, I have my own conscience and I feel comfortable with my conscience.”

Talking over each other, Howard Arndt, “I don’t have to be yours, I’m going to take my position on council if you don’t like it that’s fine that’s your right and it’s my right to say what I’m going to say.”

At this point, several councillors jumped in “whoa – whoa.”

Whitrow responded, “I have no problem with you being on council, I’m glad to see somebody representing division 5 I just have a problem with you trying to be my conscience and there is no way in hell you are ever going to be my conscience.”

Arndt replied, “and that’s fine, I don’t have a problem with that and you aren’t going to be mine but I am going to try to bring a conscience to council and if you don’t like that I really can’t do anything about that, but that’s what I’m going to do.”

Reeve Schmidt acknowledged Councillor Romanyk asking if he had something to say. Romanyk said, “I was just trying to stop the madness.”

Later in the Open Forum, where members of the public can speak. Ratepayer Leandra Cameron spoke. She said she wanted to address the last meeting where the council discussed the national day for truth and reconciliation. She added, “Or rather the lack of the discussion of the topic at hand. And inappropriate and disrespectful commentary of some councillors and the CAO. Mr. Gilbert stated this morning, ‘you can read it word for word in the paper’ and that in fact is true and I’m not sure where the confusion is when what comes out of council’s or the CAO’s mouth that’s reported becomes the reporter’s fault or her opinion. Those were the words you said, and I heard those words and I was disgusted and I watched that discussion. Those were the words that you Brandi said that you Garry Gilbert said and that you Don Whitrow said. Those were your words so how is that her fault and that is not her opinion. Those are your words.”

Cameron continued to say that council could not blame their poor judgement and irresponsible actions on the reporter. She said, “you are the public officials and it’s your responsibility to be professional as you will be scrutinized. It is in your code of ethics.” Cameron started to say that she was disappointed in the CAO’s position, saying that she was doubling down on what Cameron called inappropriate behaviour. Councillor Dixon interrupted, saying that the purpose of the open forum was for comments and questions on what was happened at the present meeting and “not to be bashing people.” He asked the Reeve if he was correct. Reeve Schmidt said he was correct. Councillor Dixon said to Cameron that she could put in correspondence to the office if she wished. Reeve Schmidt said to Cameron that she couldn’t attack people. Cameron responded that council was attacking the reporter. Cameron said she would submit a letter.

Jennifer Argue, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Last Mountain Times

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