COLEMAN: Usernames as Political Expression in Online Meetings and the Charter | The public record

Some observers at tonight’s school board meeting changed their names to various statements against mask mandates.

Freeyourface, No Mask4Me, SayNO 2FaceDiapers and Smiling Faces over Masks are just some of the statements.

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board staff and administrators could see the names, the same way they could read signs if it was an in-person meeting with people seated in a physical public gallery.

Does the use of the “username” for a political message constitute an activity of expression protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the era of electronic meetings?

People regularly bring placards and placards expressing their political views to in-person public meetings. This enjoys Charter protection, according to the Ontario Superior Court in Gammie v. Town of South Bruce Peninsula, 2014 ONSC 6209.

Open Meeting Regulations in Ontario Education Act are similar to Municipal lawand Gammie applies to public meetings of school boards.

Merely attending an in-person meeting is an expressive activity. Politicians change their behavior when observed by an audience.

Likewise, many people watching a live stream signal the public interest to politicians.

People have a charter right to attend meetings. They can be removed for disruptive behavior, and using the name feature to express non-offensive messages does not disrupt an online meeting.

Is the MS Teams name feature an expressive activity platform?

In Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority, 2009 SCC 31, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a ban on political advertising on public transit. The Supreme Court that transit companies are an arm of government bound by the Charter. By creating advertising spaces, they created a platform for expression and could not ban political messages.

This case is central to challenges under Section 2(b) of the Charter against local governments.

The HWDSB does not intend to provide an expressive activity platform when using Microsoft Teams to host meetings.

Observer video and microphones are disabled. The chat function is disabled.

People are prompted to share their name in the name field. That’s his only goal.

People who use it for political statements do not create a platform.

In the end, the HWDSB acted cautiously.

No interruptions, no withdrawals.