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A tinge of Big Brother from city hall


George Orwell’s futuristic novel – Nineteen Eighty Four – was about living in an authoritarian and totalitarian society where government controlled everything, even thought and expression. It sounded drastic when it was published in 1949. The central character, Big Brother, controlled what people thought, said and wrote.

Little did we ever think that this type of authoritarian censorship could take over our society, it was only a novel. Welcome to 1984, Nanaimo. I had to read the news in the local newspaper more than once to convince myself this was really happening. The City of Nanaimo has sent freedom of expression warning letters to certain citizens cautioning them about what they should not write or post on social media. 

I am not familiar with any legislation that would empower the city to take any form of action because of someone’s hurt feelings. From the news story, that is what this is all about. 

When you get into the area of trying to interpret what’s on the mind of people, their intent, you open a real kettle of worms. Anything touchy-feeley that does not fall under those limitations is not up to a civic government to try to control.

We have civil laws regulating limits to freedom of speech and expression. Those fall under the libel and slander categories.

I am active on social media, but I know the limit of what you can LEGALLY say or write. Many people on social media do not understand the distinction and many of them cross the line. City employees should not be targeted or harassed, that’s not part of their job description.

Councillor Gordon Fuller was one of those singled out for the censorship warning letters. That makes me question whether this initiative was approved by council in the first place, or whether a city staffer took personal initiative. Indications are that City Manager Tracy Samra initiated the letter in order to support her empoyees. Honorable intentions, but wrong process.

I don’t follow Fuller’s Facebook site, but I have viewed it in the past and am not on the same page with a lot of things he does on that site. I have often wondered whether it was smart politics for an elected official to sound off like that, but it is his right to do so. I always say anyone has the right to have a wrong opinion. Fuller and I both have the right to express our opinions as long as they stay within the letter of the law.

Don Bonner is the administrator for A Better Nanaimo Facebook page. I followed it for some time soaking in the views of many Nanaimo citizens. After a while it became the same people with the same issues, having opinions about Nanaimo. Some Facebook opinions get really nasty, especially the comments made in ignorance. (Ignorance as in lack of knowledge or fact.) When they do cross the legal line it is up to the legal system, not the city, to get involved. Some verge on libel, but that’s up to the “victim” to take to court.

Political correctness is running amok in our society, and freedom of expression is the victim. It is censorship. That last thing we need, as in Orwell’s “Big Brother” to monitor and restrict our thoughts. 

Merv Unger is a retired journalist and former city councillor living in Nanaimo, B.C.