Volume 95, Issue 40
Tuesday, November 13, 2001
Confidentiality called into question
Lawyer refutes SSSC claims
By Erin Conway-Smith
A top London lawyer says the Social Science Students' Council had little reason to hold their meetings in confidential session, despite claims by SSSC officials that such steps were taken for legal considerations.
In addition to last Wednesday's council meeting, which moved into confidential, a three-hour council meeting held Sunday afternoon was almost entirely confidential.
The meetings, which discussed overdue bills from Orientation week activities totalling $7,400, were held in confidentiality because a member's conduct was to be discussed, said SSSC president Duane Baxter.
Legal liability for slander was the main reasons considered before moving into confidentiality, said Kevin Atcheson, SSSC speaker.
"We were dealing with the conduct of a member," Atcheson said. "We didn't know and still don't know where that will lead us."
By law, slander is the defamation of an individual that lowers that individual's reputation, said Rene Gasparotto, a media lawyer for Siskinds law firm.
But, he added, the law does allow for opinion, as long as it is based on facts.
"As long as the facts are right, the law lets you express opinion even if it is an extreme opinion," Gasparotto said. "If they are only going to mention matters that are true, I don't know why they would be that concerned [about slander]."
The SSSC was following the guidelines laid out in Robert's Rules of Order a popular guide that explains how meetings should operate, Baxter said.
"In Robert's Rules [of Order], if you are going to discuss a member's conduct, you have to go into confidential," Baxter said.
The SSSC may be hiding behind Robert's Rules, Gasparotto added.
Baxter said he sought advice on the subject of confidentiality from Atcheson.
Atcheson said he has no legal knowledge, but does have previous experience with Robert's Rules from which his advice to Baxter was based.
SSSC councilor Eric Fortin voted against a motion to move Wednesday's meeting into confidentiality because, he said, he did not feel the rationale had been clearly communicated to council members.
"[Baxter and SSSC VP-finance Owais Rafiq] made it clear they would not be discussing information if it wasn't in confidential," he said. "They were playing a catch-22 game."
Copyright © The Gazette 2001