‘Offensive’ PW council videos could be removed

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Plympton-Wyoming residents will be able to watch their local council meetings but – as one councillor puts it – they better “get on it and get it looked at” before it is taken down.

Plympton-Wyoming, like many municipalities, began live streaming its council meetings during the pandemic. The practice continues today but, unlike some other municipalities, Plympton-Wyoming does not save the videos on a platform like YouTube. If you couldn’t watch during the regular 5 pm meeting, you were out of luck.

Councillor Mike Vasey brought up the issue earlier this year and on May 10, town council passed a new policy which will see the videos remain online for a year.

Councillor Alex Boughen says it is important for people to be able to access their local council meetings. 

“Before I was sitting here at this table and I didn’t have a good reason to leave work five minutes early to make this meeting, it was difficult for me to watch live. So there is a lot of value in having those recordings available.”

How long they should be available was the subject of debate.

The town’s consultant suggested a year would be long enough to keep the videos online. But Vasey suggested the videos should be available for the council’s four year term. 

Other members of council did not agree. Councillor John Van Klaveren says residents will simply have to be on the ball to see council meetings.

“Their responsibility is, if they’re genuinely interested, to make it happen. The longer that  it’s out there isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but those wanting to … (we’ll) give them an opportunity if they are legitimately busy but get on it and get it looked at if you need to,” he said arguing in favour of making the videos available for just one year.

Lambton County has been recording its council since 2019. They are all still available on the county’s website.

Other councillors weren’t comfortable at all with having the videos shared online. Councillor Bob Woolvett suggested people could tamper them. “What can and will they be used for? For somebody that wants to use them for or whatever they want to use it for?.. the video is taken of course (and be) put up in the news media and TV and stuff like that? …What’s the legalities around that?”

Deputy Clerk Denny Gilles said the town would retain the original copy so any tampering would be exposed and didn’t specifically address how requests from members of the media would be handled. Clerk Erin Kwarciak suggested copyright laws might apply.

There were also concerns, originally voiced by the town’s lawyers who reviewed the policy, about any liability the municipality would have  for what was said during the meetings. 

Staff included a clause in the policy which allows the mayor or council – by a majority vote – to direct staff to remove recordings or portions of them “due to the presence of content they deem inappropriate for publication.”

That, according to the policy, could include, false or misleading communication damaging the reputation of a person or organization, infringes copyright laws, provides personal information about a person, “be offensive” or constitutes discrimination.”

Vasey expressed concern about the policy; “I just don’t want that we have this and then we start pulling videos down when they’re controversial or that makes us look bad. If you’re trying to hide something.”

However, the clerk suggested it would be used in exceptional circumstances, such as if there is a medical emergency in the council chamber.

In the end, council approved the policy which included the possibility of removing videos from circulation.