WATCH: ‘Warning letters’ sent to Sooke Pocket News and Sooke resident raise concerns over whether Sooke Council is trying to muzzle negative comments. Tess van Straaten reports.
Sooke is known for being a quiet community off the beaten path.
But it’s now at the centre of an explosive controversy — with Sooke Council and the District’s Chief Administrative Officer accused of trying to muzzle the media and area residents.
“It’s completely inappropriate,” Sooke Pocket News publisher Britt Santowski says. ” There’s a reason we have freedom of the press, that goes hand in hand with a democratic state. Once you try oppressing freedom of the press, democracy goes downhill.”
The Sooke Pocket News publisher went public with the story, posting this editorial on Monday.
It reveals that letters from lawyers had been sent to her and another resident.
A letter from the District of Sooke, signed by mayor Maja Tait, controversially states that, “…freedom of expression is subject to the statements being true and constructive.”
“I don’t think that they have the right to redefine the definition of freedom of speech,” Santowski says.
Santowski received two letters — one sent on behalf of Sooke CAO Theresa Sullivan and the other, from the same law firm, representing councillor Kerrie Reay.
They accuse Santowski of defamation for this article questioning a possible conflict of interest in the CAO hiring process.
Reay chaired the hiring committee but didn’t disclose a connection to Sullivan.
“There is no defamation,” an emphatic Santowski says, holding a binder full of evidence. “Everything I’m talking about is documented and true, it’s verifiable.”
The letters asked her to remove the story from the Sooke Pocket News website and threaten the possibility of ‘further steps’ if she doesn’t comply.
Sooke mayor Maja Tait says they’re not trying to muzzle anyone
Sooke’s mayor says they’re not trying to muzzle anyone.
“No, of course not,” Tait says. “We’re trying to encourage feedback, not stifle it. The public can say what they want to, we encourage that, they should challenge council.”
In a three-page media release sent out Tuesday, the mayor claims that, “at no time did the District or I threaten a lawsuit or any legal action”.
But Santowski says the letters have scared her.
“The letters have frightened me into not pursuing things further,” the single mother says. “I am stepping away from the story.”
As a small business owner, Santowski says she can’t afford to fight a possible lawsuit.