Honest and open school board meetings?


BY CHRIS EUSTACE

PUBLISHED: FEBRUARY 2, 2011

Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph

Next week the National Assembly of Quebec reconvenes. Undoubtedly, the government and the opposition parties will do battle, all in the name of responsibility, citizenship and democracy.

Last week, the Quebec English School Boards Association, an organization looking for relevance, launched its ‘Go Publique’ campaign (www.gopublique.ca), costing tens of thousands of dollars, in the hope of attracting more eligible students to the English elementary and high schools.

A few days later, the Lester B. Pearson School Board held a slick press conference to launch an introduction of a Digital Citizenship program. I attended strictly as an observer. It was web cast and is on the Board’s site.

That said, let me link the aforementioned with a letter I presented during the Public Question period of the Executive Committee meeting of the Lester B. Pearson School Board, on June 21, 2010.

“For over 10 years I have been an active participant, by asking questions, making comments and suggestions at the monthly Lester B. Pearson School Board Council of Commissioners meetings. For the most part, my presence at Council was put up with, and things were done in a democratic and legal manner.

I was treated with dignity and respect.Sometimes, my ideas at Council combined with my letter-writing to newspaper editors, resulted in positive things for the school community. The web-casting of board meetings, the idea of a student ombudsman, a proper code of ethics for commissioners, and defibrillators in schools are some items, which come to mind.

However, on April 13, April 26 and May 31, 2010, I was denied my democratic right as a citizen and school taxpayer, to ask a question at the Public Question periods of the Lester B. Pearson School Board. The three occasions involved matters dealing with either Bill 104, access to English public schools and/or Bill 88, a law designed for improved school board governance and democracy.

As it turned out, a complete mockery of the democratic process occurred. At the April 13 meeting, witnessed by CBC, CTV and Global News television, not only was I denied the right to speak but was also subjected to allegations and insults by the chairperson. I had no opportunity to respond.

At the April 26 meeting, a new rule: “call or email me first.” At the May 31 meeting 6 or 7 people spoke but I was refused. This is discrimination.

Moreover, Chairman Marcus Tabachnick is not allowing the public to see aspects of the meeting where his chairmanship runs counter the rules of a public meeting. Who gave him the right to edit the web cam transmission, three times, by switching off the public microphone and hiding this speaker from view by diverting the web camera.

These actions do nothing to increase the public’s confidence in democratically elected school boards.

These deeds not only infringed on my right as a citizen but also contravened the stated policies of the Board.

Consider the LBPSB’s Vision Statement, which calls for the ‘fostering of responsible citizenship, cooperation and a strong sense of community.’ And its Code of Ethics: Behaviour – ‘Commissioners must, at all times, behave in a professional and respectful manner in their dealings with Council, staff, the school community, the public and other bodies.’

“Professional?” Not one commissioner spoke out; they sat there and witnessed this unbecoming conduct.

The Quebec Education Act calls for public question periods. Bill 88 calls for an additional question period, all in the name of transparency and democracy.

The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms states: “Every person is the possessor of the fundamental freedoms, including… freedom of opinion, freedom of expression…” Furthermore, “Every person has a right to the safeguard of his dignity, honour and reputation.”

Under the heading: “Right to Equal Recognition and Exercise of Rights and Freedoms – Discrimination forbidden – Every person has a right to full and equal recognition and exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference.”

Bill 88 is all about democracy and governance. The disregard of democracy and the trampling of fundamental rights by the LBPSB must end now because the purpose of Bill 88 is jeopardized.

Since there is no mechanism to remedy this state of affairs, use of the Quebec Charter is necessary to curb this menace to democracy before any one else’s rights are violated.

Article 21 states: “Every person has a right of petition to the National Assembly for the redress of grievances.” I intend to exercise this right to prevent the continuing abuse of authority, which has resulted in a violation of not only the school board’s own policies, but also the clear and often repeated legislative insistence that individuals in our society should not be denied their democratic right to express opinions.

The preceding was sent to about 120 MNAs on June 24, 2010. Since then I have attended the July and December, 2010, Pearson Executive Committee meetings which are not web cast. There is no trace anywhere of my presence, in spite of the fact the Agenda calls for a Public Question period. More on this matter is found in a letter to the Editor on January 13, 2010, titled “Thank you QCT.” I hope that going public with this open letter to the Quebec government on citizenship will provide some protection from this secretive, yet arrogant, English school board. Vive la démocratie !