Public. It’s a simple word, only two syllables, but sometimes people have a hard time understanding what it means.
Consider the term “public corporation.” Used in this way, it means that a company is owned by the citizens of a particular jurisdiction. Say, Hydro-Québec, for example. The owners of that corporation – the public of Quebec – thus need to be informed about its activities in order to judge how well their corporation is running its affairs, whether it is doing so in the “public interest,” which is another interesting term.
Yet another is “public meeting.” This signifies that the gathering in question is open to the public, and their representatives in the media. If one is to appear at or speak at a public meeting, they must be prepared to face the public, whether they are physically in the room or if they are watching via media organs.
This last point is vital to a truly public event in our day and age. If media representatives or even the public are not allowed to record a public meeting, it is not truly public.
That’s why it was so disturbing when Pearl Weistche was barred from recording a very important public meeting Oct. 28 in Waskaganish held to examine the likely environmental effects of the Rupert River diversion.
The meeting between Cree talleymen and representatives of Hydro-Québec and the Société d’énergie de la Baie James is exactly the kind of event that needs to be documented for public consumption given its high public interest. The talleymen also had concerns they wished to have addressed or at least made known to the SEBJ and Hydro-Québec. They also wished to give the benefit of their Cree expertise and predict the outcome of Hydro-Quebec’s Rupert River diversion. They wanted this to be documented.
However, a Hydro-Québec representative objected to the videotaping. A member of the co-coordinating committee told Wiestche that if one party did not want to be filmed then it couldn’t be done. An argument ensued and the decision went to Waskaganish Chief Steve Diamond, who backed the Hydro-Québec representatives request not to be filmed.
Given this was a public meeting many questions must be asked loudly and often.
Was there something wrong with the presentation the representative was showing the talleymen? Could the presentation stand up to scrutiny? Would peoples words come back to haunt them?
This reminds us of the Paix des Braves hearings, where media was not going to be allowed to be present and record what was going on. The Nation, CBC North and a videographer all came and simply said, kick us out, we’ll hold a press conference.
It was all about the public’s right to know. This was a public meeting and those members of the public who could not attend had a right to know what happened at the meeting.
Anything else is not only censorship but is a denial of a transparent process. Something that we were assured would not happen in the past with our new relationship with the government or its entities concerning the actions of resource exploitation (e.g. Hydro-Québec) in Eeyou Istchee.
Any media person, whether in print, radio or TV, knows that at a public meeting it is not necessary to get signed release forms from the participants as all information is public. For this to be superseded by political or corporate interests is not in keeping with public access.
In any case, one of the parties – the talleymen – had already given their permission to Weistche and as such she was their agent under the Cree Naskapi definition and therefore entitled to create a record of the proceedings for the party that she now represented.
The law is clear on what can and cannot be done and the restrictions placed upon both public and private meetings. In both cases, Weistche had a right to videotape the meeting, either in a public or private manner.
Hydro-Québec and the SEBJ did not have a right to stop it, however, they had a right to not participate, which would have led to other problems than this one
In any case, this story will be fully looked at in the next issue as to what exactly happened and why it did. Hopefully we can find some solutions to get a transparent process back on track.