A Vancouver Island municipality has banned people from recording its meetings.
District of Lantzville councillors voted 3-2 in favour of prohibiting members of the public from using electronic audio, or audiovisual devices to record district meetings.
Recordings can now only be made by those who receive prior approval from the council and the ban also extends to members of the media, according to Lantzville’s chief administrative officer, Ronald Campbell.
The decision to ban recordings was made in March, just before municipalities began moving to online meetings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It comes after an individual streamed a Lantzville public hearing over Facebook in late February.
Residents had no notice before March meeting that a recording ban would be discussed by council because an emergency motion was passed at the beginning of that meeting, allowing councillors to debate and ultimately approve the idea.
Lantzville currently video records its own council meetings, but does not live-stream meetings like other municipalities. There is no measure prohibiting people from re-recording the video feed of Lantzville’s meetings.
Coun. Will Geselbracht, who brought forward the emergency motion to prohibit recordings, told council that people who record meetings with their own devices could edit them to make councillors look bad.
“Either the audio can be bad, or the video is concentrating on somebody that is not even talking; if that goes out to the public like that it is unfair,” he said. “It is unfair to us sitting at a council meeting to have distortions go out there. There are enough misinterpretations sometimes in the community with what goes on here.”
Geselbracht, who is also a lawyer, called the ban a rational and reasonable idea that will deal with the supposed issue of people recording councillors without their knowledge.
“I think this is a good, reasonable, rational, well thought out way of dealing with it,” he said. “You’re going to hear us, you’re going to see us, and my advice is, come to the meetings.”
It is legal to prohibit the public from recording council meetings, according to Coun. Karen Proctor, who said the district has obtained a legal opinion on the matter.
“We do now have a legal opinion and it is within our legal rights to ask people not to tape us,” she said.
Lantzville’s mayor Mark Swain said, however, he couldn’t support such a ban.
“I really struggle with this,” he said. “I feel like this is a bit of a knee jerk motion of council.”
Swain noted that journalists have tweeted Lantzville’s meetings in real-time with video before and that people can attend City of Nanaimo council meetings and record using their own device without any issues. He also raised concerns about enforcing such a ban.
“I will be left in the position, where if I see a cellphone coming out, I am going to have to stop the meeting and actually have a member of staff possibly inspect the phone to see if it is in use,” he said.
Coun. Ian Savage said the idea was full of flaws and that he couldn’t support it. He said he felt the measure was being done to restrict public participation and doubted whether people recording meetings was even an issue in Lantzville.
“Our meetings are not copyrighted. I see no reason whatsoever why the public can’t tape our meetings,” Savage said. “In my mind it is simply not a problem.”
Savage also said the recording that was live-streamed in February wasn’t good quality and showed him “hidden in darkness.” He said he has no issue with that or anyone else who records council meetings with their own devices, even if the video quality or they edit it afterwards.
“I have no problem whatsoever with any view of me, any editing of me, anything. I’m quite proud of what I say in council meetings and I expect anything I say in council meetings to be out there in the public realm,” Savage said.
But Coun. Jamie Wilson said Savage being hidden in darkness on the Facebook video is one of the reasons why a recording ban is needed. He said people could pick on councillors by filming them individually without their knowledge, adding that the district’s official video is at a good angle and shows all councillors fairly.
“If you look at the camera right now, it is of a certain angle on the council members,” he said, adding. “The live streaming that happened . . . the angle of that was below the table; inappropriate.”
In the end, councillors Geselbracht, Proctor and Wilson voted in favour of the ban while Savage and Swain were opposed.
Speaking to CHEK News, Wilson said the move isn’t about hiding anything and the issue isn’t with the media recording meetings or even parents recording their children speaking to council, but rather with individuals who are live streaming, providing commentary and recording in a way that portrays councillors poorly. He also said he’s supportive of the district establishing its own live stream feed in the future.
All other members of council were contacted by CHEK News for further comment but did not respond or declined to comment.