Civil, civic conversations. If you can’t do that – don’t waste your time writing.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

February 13th, 2018



It was the call for a Task Force on Bullying and Harassment that got us started on this. Then the note from    James Schofield that led to our asking: “Are we part of the problem – we thought we were part of the solution.”

The Gazette opened up a comments section on the newspaper and the response was robust.  But we began to notice that people were disrespecting one another and we began to tighten up the rules on what was acceptable.

We then began to look at the comments section of the Gazette and decided that we needed to tighten up on what we were permitting.


Removing content that is disrespectful is not censorship.

We learned that this isn’t going to be a simple process.

We edited a comment from a reader taking out disrespectful language – here is what came back

“I’m out” said Michael Drake. He added: “I appreciate the Gazette trying to cover these issues but can’t abide censorship of any kind. Time to go yell at some clouds.

“Good luck everyone (that includes you too James).”

The comment that we edited removed the name calling. We wanted the comments section to be a place where civil, civic conversations could take place. So Michael will no longer be with us because he feels respect for those we share this planet with is akin to censorship.

James Schofield put it very well when he said in the article that “I think the recognition that commenting on your site is a privilege, not a right, and certainly not a “free speech” right, is also important.”

Civil, civic conversations. If you can’t do that – don’t waste your time writing.

Related content:

Lancaster calls for a Task Force

Whose interests are being served

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9 comments to Civil, civic conversations. If you can’t do that – don’t waste your time writing.

  • Brian Roach

    You should of course moderate comments for language and attacks, but don’t be surprised how slippery the slope might become.

    It’s very easy to go from ‘this comment was an attack on someone’ to ‘I think this comment is offensive’ to ‘I don’t agree with this viewpoint’.

    I trust that the editors will be cognisant of the difference.

  • Gary Scobie

    I didn’t agree with everything that Michael Drake wrote, but I agreed with a lot. I for one will miss his comments if he chooses to become absent because of this issue. I agree that discourse should be civil and I hope I can stick to that myself. I don’t see it as censorship. I see it as essential for good dialogue. Please re-consider Michael. We need everyone’s opinion and this is the place where it’s at in Burlington.

  • Luke

    Some might not like the choice of words others employ and that is a function of their character.

    To accuse one of Lying is a bold stroke and could land you in civil court but to express an opinion that one is ignorant or misguided is harsh to be sure but it is still only an opinion.

    Personally I prefer my dear Mother’s words in such cases, “Sticks and stones….”
    Outside of profanity which research indicates that one who swears in conversation is more honest than one who does not swear is noteworthy.

    “The dirtier the mouth the more honest the person may be, a new study has found.

    According to the joint study by Maastricht University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Stanford University and University of Cambridge, those who swear like sailors are considered more sincere than those who don’t swear or keep their profanity to a minimum.”

  • So here is a quick example:

    Several places in the Burlington Website and marketing it reads “Burlington no longer has room to expand roads.”

    This just not true, Halton has long had on the books HOV expansion for Appley, Brant, Upper Middle, Highway 5, etc. That’s why 407 bridges are 6 lanes wide – they contemplate the extra HOV lane.

    I realize a number of people think the roads – should not be expanded in any case. However, that is not what was presented.

    What is the “civil” way to address this point? Because we already have a compact work to describe this behaviour – it is a lie. It’s that simple, the creators may think it’s a benign lie, a white lie, a necessary lie, a beneficial lie. But it’s introducing an idea that is not true as stated.

    Is that civil discourse?

    • Chris Ariens

      I guess it depends greatly on the context under which the sentence is written.

      For example, take the statement which you’ve referred to. It was provided by the City of Burlington, in reference to the City of Burlington’s official plan.

      All of the roadways which Greg has listed as having been constructed with room to expand, are not under the jurisdiction of the City of Burlington. They are operated by Halton Region (with the exception of the segment of Upper Middle between Brant and Guelph Line). Therefore, the “City of” Burlington does not have the room to expand these roads.

      So I may look at the evidence and decide that the City’s statement is “generally factual”.

      There may be still others who would argue that even with respect to Brant Street downtown, it is possible to get rid of on-street parking, narrow the sidewalks and make more room for cars. Even if it is not necessarily desirable to do that. To that person, the City’s statement would be a falsehood.

      Part of respectful discourse is not automatically assuming that the person we’re conversing with has bad intentions, or is “lying” to us. That’s difficult given the fact we’re all human and we all have differing perspectives and some have had very negative experiences that shaped those perspectives.

      And we all do tend to make generalizations. If I only had a dollar for each time I’ve seen the generalization that “nobody cycles for transportation in Burlington…”, which based on my own experience as someone who regularly cycles for transportation and knowing several citizens who do the same, that statement can be proven false.

      Just imagine the conversations though if we all had to qualify any generalizations we made and reduce them to fact. Wouldn’t we all sound like lawyers?

      • Lie means to intend to convey a false impression. The idea that the staff merely intended to let us know that “non-regional” roads have a limit is not credible.

        That’s not true either by the way. Take Plain Road/Fairview:

        If you can fit a gap and two rows of parallel parking then you can certainly fit additional lanes of traffic or cycle infrastructure.

        Those parallel parked cars are on top of what could be a protected bike lane which I would greatly prefer to the dangerous setup currently on offer.

      • KJ

        Another type of lie could be someone purposely creating an online campaign posting the same bicycle mantra over and over and over, creating a false impression (to use another poster’s phrase) that there is a significant bicycle lobby in Burlington when there is anything but. I believe you though Chris; I’m sure there are “several” people biking to work in Burlington.

  • Lynn Crosby

    And I believe it was Councillor Meed Ward’s recent raising of her Point of Privilege which led to the idea of creating the Task Force on Bullying on Harassment. I’m still perplexed as to why her Point of Privilege was not commented on by anyone on council when she raised it, particularly as she cited some examples of harassment directed at herself as well as City staff and the public. I hope this Task Force accomplishes something.

  • Alide Camilleri

    Newspapers of the paper-kind have always made choices of what and what not to publish. Any kind of newspaper is not a platform for letting out venom and foul language. This is not censorship, but an effort to encourage civil discourse. If we can’t voice our disagreement civilly than we are a poor society.