A Canadian town has widened an ordinance that now makes insulting police officers and public officials via social media a finable offense.
City council members in the town of Granby, Quebec, voted unanimously this week in favor of an addendum that would impose stiff fines ranging from $100 to $1,000 on citizens who belittle or otherwise offend public officials with online insults.
“In my opinion, if I threaten you via my keyboard, it’s as though I am making that threat right in front of you… For me, it’s the same thing,” Granby Deputy Mayor Robert Riel defended the law to CBC News, conflating harmless “insults” with “threats.”
“Here in Granby we don’t stop people from giving their opinions — people are allowed to express themselves,” Riel added. “But there’s a question of respect, and respect is important today. Police have a hard, thankless job to do.”
Granby already had a bylaw criminalizing insults targeting police and other city officials.
An extension to the law was proposed after various complaints from the public began appearing on a Facebook page entitled Les policiers zélé de Granby — The Zealous Police of Granby.
CBC News reports the insults sometimes contained an officer’s name and badge number, which is typically public information.
The addition to the bylaw would also institute a $2000 penalty to second offenders.
Constitutional lawyer and law professor Julius H. Grey says the town’s move is nothing short of a constitutional violation and an assault on free speech.
“What you’re going to be having is a trial of speech every time a municipal employee or a policemen considers himself insulted. I think this is absolutely terrible,” Grey told CBC.
“The theory that we have the right not to be hurt or insulted and that we can punish people for it is to attempt to change human nature – and that’s what we’re living right now,” Grey added, according to the Montreal Gazette.
“Lack of respect is impoliteness, it’s not a crime.”
Since the law passed, the critical Facebook page has added a message telling its users that insults will not be tolerated.
Grey, many townsfolk and defenders of freedom alike hope the ordinance fails judicial scrutiny once a person is charged under the bylaw.