A Saanich woman who claimed the District of Saanich had undermined her freedom of expression, said last week’s public apology by Mayor Richard Atwell has satisfied her.
“I thought it was a satisfactory conclusion to my court case,” said Lynn Husted.
Atwell’s apology was part of a settlement between Saanich and Husted, who last month filed a judicial review against the district.
It said Saanich’s decision to rescind the controversial Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw in November 2017 was “invalid” because Saanich violated her freedom of expression, when Mayor Richard Atwell denied Husted “unreasonably and without justification, her right to speak at the Nov. 6 meeting.”
Husted acknowledged that she failed to achieve one of her goals: force Saanich to reconsider its decision to rescind the bylaw. Critics of this decision said it reverses environmental protection of environmentally sensitive areas, a charge denied by the supporters of Saanich’s decision, who argue that the bylaw denied the rights of property owners and diminished property values.
But Husted stressed that the “primary goal” of her case has always been about protecting freedom of speech and procedural rights under the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
Husted said Atwell’s apology recognized those rights, so the issue is settled.
The apology, according to Husted, was part of a larger settlement, whose terms she refused to disclose, citing a confidentiality agreement. Specifically, she refused to disclose whether she received any funds in exchange for dropping her case.
“I cannot comment on that,” she said.
Atwell’s apology recognized the right of “Husted and others to engage in advocacy work on behalf of the environment” and their Charter rights, which were described as essential elements of a thriving democracy.
“While as chair of the meeting on Nov. 6, I considered it necessary to ask Dr. Husted to stop speaking given my interpretation of the council rules. It is not, and it never has been my intention to intimidate any person or make any person feel disrespected. I do apologize for any feelings of disrespect that may have resulted to Dr. Husted or anyone else.”
But the statement also reaffirms the prerogative of the mayor to guide proceedings in a manner that balances various goals such as robust public participation, and efficient decision-making. Existing council rules strike that balance, he said.
“These rules include a requirement that speakers stay focused on relevant issues and that they avoid discussing the personal information of third parties,” he said. “These rules are displayed prominently on the monitors here in council chambers, and are also announced verbally at the commencement of any meeting where the public will have the opportunity to speak.”
During the meeting in question, Husted spoke on behalf of Saanich Action for the Environment (SAFE) to present a submission that asked council to delay its pending decision to solicit meaningful input and await the resolution of a disciplinary citation against Ted Lea dated Oct. 24, 2017.
Husted said during the presentation the citation against Lea is public knowledge as per the college and the media and that SAFE is not pre-judging the outcome of the hearing.
This commentary prompted a caution from Atwell, who warned Husted against disclosing personal information.
Following some back-and-forth between Husted and Atwell that also included a point of order from Coun. Fred Haynes, Husted received instructions from Atwell to stop speaking, noting that her presentation had gone off topic, while “trying to drag” Lea’s disciplinary hearing into an inappropriate forum.
Atwell said that he could not comment on the issue beyond last Monday’s statement. “However, it is important to point out that the rules and procedures we employ to govern our meetings remain the same,” he said.
Husted acknowledged this aspect, and expressed hope that Saanich will apply them consistently and fairly.