Private or public

An email sent to each member of council has spread far beyond the intended audience, raising questions about the expectation of privacy.

An email sent to each member of municipal council in response to a recent decision has spread far beyond the intended audience, raising questions about the expectation of privacy.

Joel Gregg sent the email in August, taking issue with the decision to paint two crosswalks in the colours of the rainbow flag. Portions of the letter, which he assumed was private correspondence, later appeared in a news story.

The issue here is not Gregg’s opinions about the rainbow crosswalks. Rather, it is the assumption he had made that his correspondence was private and would not be made public.

Any member of the public is free to communicate with members of council, individually or as a whole.

And, under the regulations governing freedom of information and protection of privacy, emails sent to council members about council business may be circulated.

Forwarding the email was allowed.

However, the assumption of privacy adds another dimension to this incident.

A letter, email or conversation intended as private comment will often take on a tone one would not find in a public comment.

It is essential that residents know from the outset if their words will be treated as private or public comment. They need to know what can be said privately and what may be made public.

Without this information, clearly stated, residents may be unwilling to voice their opinions, especially if such opinions are contrary to the status quo.

Democracy requires public involvement, at every step of the process.

This involvement is necessary not just during elections but whenever a resident has concerns or comments about any issue at the table.

It is essential that the members of the public know, before making any comments to members of council, whether their comments could be forwarded or made public.

Otherwise, some may choose to keep silent rather than voice concerns about the issues which matter to them.