[AP: Ville de Granby, Québec, Canada] Shouting their slogan Je suis important, vous ne pouvez pas irriter mon cul délicate, public employees celebrated a legal victory over internet abuse this week in Granby, a town in southern Quebec.
That victory came when the Granby municipal council unanimously passed an amendment to expand Article 17 of the municipal code. For years that code has forbidden the populace to "provoke, insult, revile, blaspheme or harass" police officers or municipal employees in the course of their duties. Last week's amended explicitly expanded the ban to prohibit insults online or in social media.
"This measure patches a gaping hole in our protection," said Robert Riel, deputy mayor of Granby. "People felt free to insult public employees online. Now they know they can't." Riel — occasionally pausing to collect himself — described how his ability to do his job had been ruthlessly disrupted by citizens criticizing his competence, his policy choices, and his 2010 arrest for attempting sexual intercourse with an award-winning snowman in Granby's public square during the town's Winterlude festival.
"That snowperson was extremely realistic and provocative," Riel added. "But my feelings are just as real."
Though it had strong support from elected officials, local police were the driving force behind the recent amendment. For two years, Granby law enforcement has been the target of relentless criticism, questioning, and even satire by the Facebook group Les policiers zélé de Granby, without any regarding to their rights as public officials and Canadians to be protected from offense. Some of the unflattering commentary was not even in French. Marco Beauregard, directeur of the department, recounted the toll that insults have taken. "My officers are out there ever day, putting themselves on the line," he said. "I owe it to them, and to their families, to do everything I can to make sure they come home at the end of the shift with their feelings intact."
Officers have reported being upset, disquieted, and even hurt by social media comments. "How can a public officer do his or her job," Beauregard demanded, "when people feel free to question the way they do it — and even to mock them? What makes them think they can talk about whatever they want?"
"My journey of improvement on anger-management issues is not an appropriate topic of public conversation, especially after last September," argued Beauregard, referencing an incident that led to the partial destruction of a traffic barrier, two police cars and the lobby of a local Tim Hortons.
"Being Canadian means standing up for your rights," said municipal council member M. Pascal Bonin. "That's all we are doing — using our authority to stand up for our right not to be insulted. It's a fundamental right, and it shouldn't yield to anything."
Bonin himself has been the target of rude jokes regarding his name, despite his repeated and patient explanations that it is pronounced Bon – eeen. "If citizens can say what they want about civic employees, you're going to see the whole culture of public life change," he said. "Before you know it, the only sort of people who will run for office or take a public job are the hardened sort that can just shrug off criticism as part of their job, or who think that they are only there to serve the public."
"And what would that look like," Bonin asked, shuddering.
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