Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for April, 2010

A SLAPP In The Face Of Free Expression In Quebec

by Administrator April 7th, 2010

By Daniel Romano

A SLAPP is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. It is an insidious new instrument that has been rearing its head across North America. Used by governments at all levels, it attempts to squelch public outrage under the threat of defamatory lawsuits.

On March 26, 2010, the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned a broadly-worded blanket interlocutory injunction which had been issued against several Internet bloggers who had been involved in posting comments on an Internet forum, rawdon-qc.net. The interlocutory injunction, which had been issued on July 9, 2009 by Justice Danielle Richer of the Quebec Superior Court, had sought to altogether prohibit the Internet bloggers from somehow defaming the Government of Rawdon, its mayor, or director general in any way under threat of contempt of court proceedings.

This appeal drew the participation of Quebec newspapers and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association as interveners.
In quashing the interlocutory injunction issued by Justice Richer, the Quebec Court of Appeal noted that the rawdon-qc.net blog, which had been established in 2005, contained some 240 webpages of various comments and that, at most, some 22 comments may have constituted commentary that may be highly objectionable and possibly defamatory, and that Judge Richer had failed by attempting to somehow prohibit any and all defamation at large by the bloggers as against the municipal government and its officials (which is tantamount to censorship).

The Quebec Court of Appeal declined to decide the issue of whether a municipal government can sue in Quebec for alleged defamation (despite an absolute prohibition in other Canadian provinces), despite the insistence of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association that the issue ought to be addressed pursuant to new anti-SLAPP legislation in Quebec and not left to fester until a trial date sometime in the future.

On Nov. 1, 2009, Quebec witnessed municipal elections across the province, and Rawdon witnessed a change in government as well. The new political party had run, in part, on a platform which sought to shed light on the Rawdon government-funded defamation case.

When the interlocutory injunction had been issued by Justice Danielle Richer in July 2009, the mayor of Rawdon at the time, publicly stated in local media interviews that the case had cost Rawdon taxpayers $150,000, and she acknowledged a direct financial contribution of the Union des Municipalités du Québec to this Rawdon test case.

In March 2010, auditors appointed by the newly elected government of the municipality of Rawdon, revealed not only that the previous administration had run up legal bills of $541,675.25 (as of Dec. 31, 2009) but that legal work on the Rawdon test case had begun long before the proceedings were filed ex parte and on an urgent basis in early February 2008 in Quebec Superior Court (District of Joliette). The legal bills of $541,675.25 (as of Dec. 31, 2009) are more than the entire amounts claimed by Rawdon and the ex-mayor and ex-director general in their lawsuits!

CAGE has since noted that following the initiation of the Rawdon test case, another case was fashioned in the image of the Rawdon test case model. In December 2008, a majority of the municipal council of Beauceville authorized funding to sue a local media outlet for alleged defamation of the municipal government and its mayor. The text of the Beauceville Resolution actually states that it seeks to have the law firm that represented Rawdon in case number 705-17-002451-084 “do for Beauceville what they did for Rawdon.”

The case funding was suspended by a subsequent vote of the Beauceville municipal council in early 2009, and the government defamation action was later discontinued altogether.

There are over 1,100 municipalities in the province of Quebec. Allowing any one of them to sue for alleged defamation of the municipal government with taxpayer dollars, would give a wide open door for oppression of political opponents in no uncertain terms. One need only be reminded of the infamous Padlock Law in Quebec, which was originally designed to address communist propaganda, but later became a powerful tool for the more generalized oppression of political opponents and minorities in Quebec.

The state of the law in Quebec is now such that any municipal councillors who could carry a majority vote to authorize municipal funding for eager and willing law firms to file lawsuits on their behalf, would be able to intimidate critics, or minorities, or threaten to exhaust them all financially by forcing them to defend against such lawsuits.

Rawdon is a town of a modest 10,000 residents: how could it run up legal bills in the amount of $541,675.25 (as of Dec. 31, 2009)? That is just over $54 for every man, woman and child living in Rawdon. The theory of a test case is convincing, particularly so given an acknowledged financial contribution of the Union des Municipalités du Québec.

Quebecers should pay close attention to this case, especially any citizens who post critical comments about municipal governments on the Internet. If the Rawdon government defamation case does not meet the definition of a SLAPP, a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, what does? One would hope that Quebec courts would be able to see it the way the average citizen of Quebec sees it, and balance the playing field for persons having to defend this kind of lawsuit pursuant to the new anti-SLAPP legislation.

Daniel Romano is a Montreal lawyer and founder of CAGE (Citizens Against Government Encroachment)

City Of Seattle Labor Contract With IBEW Local 77, Seattle City Light

by Matt Rosenberg April 7th, 2010

BACKGROUND: The City Of Seattle provides an index page with links to current labor agreements with 24 different collective bargaining units. In early 2009, the city signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the International Brotherhood Of Electrical Workers Local 77, representing certain Seattle City Light workers. The MOU extended to January 22, 2013 a previous contract which had gone into effect in January 2006 and was to expire in January 2009. The contract and MOU extension provided for generous base pay; plus steady – and in one year, pronounced – pay raises, over the course of six years.

KEY LINK: Memorandum of Understanding between City Of Seattle and Seattle City Light International Brotherhood Of Electrical Workers Local 77, signed January 12, 2009, and including the preceding contract covering January 2006 to January 2009.

HIGHLIGHTS: 2006 base pay levels were in the range of $33 to $38 per hour for many workers, with some senior workers earning as much as $41.40 or $41.63 per hour. (2006 salary schedule, pp. 95-101 of original document). Under the January 2006 to January 2009 contract, mandatory annual pay raises in 2007 and 2008 would have been in the range of 2.3 percent (‘07) and 2 percent (‘08) under provisions related to the increase in the preceding June-to-June regional Consumer Price Index (CPI-W). (p. 33, original document, and CPI data from U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics). The 2009-2013 contract extension under the MOU provided 2009 Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) salary increases for bargaining unit members of no less than 6.2 percent, and as much as 9.2 or 12.2 percent based on job category. Additional pay increases of at least 2 percent and no higher than seven percent, based on the CPI, were stipulated for each of the years 2010, 2011, and 2012. (p. 1 of original document).

Overtime pay was at double the normal rate, with overtime defined as anything greater than eight hours per day or 40 hours per week, with certain exceptions. In addition to major holidays such as Christmas, New Years Day, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and Labor Day, paid holidays also included two “floating holidays,” plus Presidents Day, Veterans Day, and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Redmond Mayor John Marchione: Memo On East King County Bicycle Wayfinding Program

by Matt Rosenberg April 5th, 2010

OVERVIEW: Highly-developed suburban and city locales can pose daunting challenges for those who wish to travel on bicycle or foot because of potential conflicts with vehicular traffic and lack of marked safe corridors, particularly on extended trips. In 2009, the East King County cities of Bothell, Redmond, Bellevue, Issaquah and Kirkland applied for $443,198 in funding from the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program funding to implement 1,100 signs or pavement markings to help bicyclists find their way and travel more safely in a total of 55 to 60 bicycle corridors. The five cities were initially awarded $150,400 and will continue to seek the remainder. Each city must approve the initial grant from the federal government for it to be finalized. The Redmond City Council will have an opportunity to do so at its meeting Tuesday night April 6, which begins at 7:30 p.m. at Redmond City Hall, 15670 N.E. 85th St. (Meeting agenda).

KEY LINK: Memo to Redmond City Council from Mayor John Marchione on East King County Bicycle Wayfinding Program, dated April 6, 2010. Additional details follow.

ESSB 6381: Public Transportation Roadmap, “Flexible-Carpooling” Pilot Project Funded With Stimulus Dollars

by Matt Rosenberg April 5th, 2010

Effective March 30, 2010, Washington State Engrossed Senate Substitute Bill (ESSB) 6381 finalizes spending plans in the 2009-2011 budget period for $341.4 million in federal stimulus money for state transportation work. The funds are to help accelerate planned work delayed due to declining gas tax revenues, and to help pay for other projects to fix or improve the state transportation system. Two noteworthy items in the bill are development of a statewide blueprint for public transportation expansion, and a pilot project for “flexible,” or on-the-fly carpooling in the SR 520 bridge corridor.

KEY LINKS:

2009-2011 Supplemental Transportation Budget (ESSB 6381)

Legislative History.

SUMMARY OF HIGHLIGHTS:

Statewide Public Transportation Blueprint. Using $350,000 in stimulus money, the Washington state legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee will by Dec. 15, 2010 prepare and deliver to the state house and senate transportation committees for consideration and possible further action a statewide blueprint for public transportation. The blueprint shall address unmet operating and capital needs of public transportation agencies, including improvements to public transportation service and access, and connectivity between public transportation providers across jursidictional boundaries. The study must also assess the state role in funding unmet needs for public transportation; criteria for prioritization, efficiency and accountability of funded projects; and maximization of mobility, social, economic and environmental benefits. (pp. 11-12). (Page numbers refer to original document, not document reader).

Flexible Carpooling Pilot Project. Using $400,000 in stimulus money, a winning applicant selected by the state department of transportation will conduct a pilot project in a high-volume commuter area that enables car-pooling without pre-arrangement and uses technologies that allow for transfer of ride credits between participants. The project must include a membership system with pre-screening, to ensure safety, and must specifically target commuter traffic on the SR 520 bridge corridor across Lake Washington between Seattle and the Eastside. The state department of transportation will report to the legislature in December 2010 on the pilot project, and provide recommendations for future flexible carpooling projects. (More: WSDOT’s flexible carpooling program page). UPDATE: According to WSDOT, a lead contractor is expected to be selected by late April or at the latest, early May.

Citizen Activism: Not So Fast

by Administrator April 5th, 2010

By Jerry Large

You can improve the world and have a good time, too.

West Seattle writer Paul Rogat Loeb has spent decades exploring and writing about community involvement and citizen activism.

Among the things he’s learned is that change can take a long time and those who laugh along the way last the distance.

We talked about the updated version of his book, “Soul of a Citizen,” which first came out in 1999.

It’s full of stories of people who saw a problem and got busy doing something about it.

Loeb said the book is about being hopeful, “giving people permission to enjoy life as they are being active.”

“When I see somebody like Desmond Tutu who’s been up against so many issues, not just apartheid but going to work in Rwanda and Haiti and taking on the Iraq war and speaking out on climate change. He’s involved in every issue you could imagine and yet if you see his presence it’s the most delightful presence imaginable,” Loeb said. “He’s having a really good time and he’s laughing and joking.”

Loeb transformed two of his own worries into fuel for updating the book.

He saw people who had been engaged in the 2008 presidential campaign losing heart because the issues that animated them weren’t being resolved quickly or in ways that matched their expectations.

“Most of the time when you win you are not winning everything,” he said. “You have to keep pushing for the long haul.”

He opens the book with the story of Rosa Parks. Everyone knows about the seamstress who sat on a bus and challenged segregation.

But people think the change was quick. It took a dozen years. And it involved lots of people and preparation.

The other issue that he wanted to address is climate change, which didn’t seem quite as urgent when he was working on the first edition.

When confronting such big challenges, he said, people shouldn’t be so intimidated that they fail to act.

Taking steps that are now available would make a big difference, Loeb said.

“I have solar panels on my house in rainy West Seattle, and basically my electrical usage is balanced out by what they do,” he said.

The book leans toward liberal activists and causes, but Loeb does include some conservatives. He profiles Rich Cizik, who helped organize the evangelical Climate Initiative, for instance.

And he devotes a chapter to a partnership between the Christian Coalition and the liberal MoveOn to preserve equal access to the Internet when some telecom companies were lobbying to create tiers of service.

I asked where citizen involvement was missing locally. He said hardly anyone knows much about the Port of Seattle.

The Port involves huge amounts of money and lots of jobs and affects the environment, but media and citizen groups haven’t been paying much attention to it.

The League of Women Voters of Greater Seattle is holding a forum on the Port on May 6 (www.seattlelwv.org).

I know that because Loeb and I spoke at a league event last week, along with Nancy Amidei, who directs the Civic Engagement Project.

That event was called Making Democracy Work, and some of the people there have been active in community life for quite a few years. Amidei says she’s a democracy addict, and I suspect that is true for many of the people who attended the event.

When I called Loeb to talk about his book, the first thing he mentioned was the tone of the gathering.

“It was a serious political event addressing serious issues … and they were laughing. They were having a great time.”

A light spirit is a good way to have staying power when you’re dealing with heavy issues.