CHILLIWACK, BC: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms announces that Chilliwack Board of School Trustees (the “Board”) has been sued for censoring and ultimately ending the public remarks of a Chilliwack grandmother at a public school board meeting on June 13, 2023. Filing her court action on October 6, 2023, Ms. di Armani drew attention to a (from 24:02 to 26:56) that shows the board’s chair and vice-chair repeatedly interrupting her and muting her microphone as she stood at the podium during a Trustee’s public meeting.
On June 13, 2023, Ms. di Armani, a former school employee and grandmother, attended the meeting of the Board to express her concerns about a potential conflict of interest involving an elected Board member. She began by saying that Trustee Teri Westerby had brought forward a motion that the Board support the Pride Month of June and raise a pole to fly the Pride flag. As Ms. di Armani began to point out that Teri Westerby was also the director of marketing for the local Pride society, she was interrupted by the Chair, Willow Reichelt, in conjunction with Vice-Chair Carin Bondar claiming that Ms. di Armani’s remarks were “discriminatory” to a Board member.
Chairman Reichelt also told Ms. di Armani that Trustee’s names are not to be used during meetings and that there could be no conflict of interest because there was “no pecuniary interest.” Chairman Reichelt further stated, “when you are talking about a human right, there is no conflict of interest.” Over the course of the next two minutes, Ms. di Armani was interrupted four times and had her microphone cut off. At times, the audio for the entire meeting was muted, and there is simply silence on the public record. A full-length video of the proceedings, including the muted segments, is available on the School District’s YouTube Channel.
In addition to this violation of her own Charter-protected freedom of expression, Ms. di Armani also objects to the School Board’s policy of not allowing members of the public to make their own recordings of these public meetings. As she entered the meeting, she was required to sign an undertaking stating she would not record anything. With the School Board controlling the only recording of the meeting, and choosing to mute the recording, Ms. di Armani alleges that the School Board is violating the Charter-protected right of other people to hear, listen, and consider alternative viewpoints.
The Board was created by British Columbia’s School Act, which requires the Board to hold public meetings and to create bylaws to regulate those meetings. While the Chair is authorized to cut off the remarks of speakers who don’t comply with their bylaw, the Chair is not allowed to silence people simply because the Chair disagrees with what someone is saying.
Ms. di Armani seeks a court declaration that the Board exceeded its authority and infringed on her Charter Rights. She is also asking for Court Orders that would prevent the Board from acting in a similar censorious manner in the future, and that would allow members of the public to make their own recordings of these public meetings.
“Elected officials exercising government power must respect Canadians’ Charter freedoms,” states Marty Moore, counsel for Ms. di Armani. “The Chilliwack School Board’s actions in this case show complete disregard for the freedom of expression, not only of my client, but also of the listening public, who have a right to hear the views of others at Board meetings. Unfortunately, this kind of censorship is a regular occurrence at Chilliwack School Board meetings. We will be seeking Court orders to put an end to these violations of Charter rights and freedoms.”