Uncivil Civic Engagement

In a clinic Tuesday, presenter Kathleen Higgins highlighted recent legal issues aimed at addressing uncivil behaviour by members of the public. Ms. Higgins, partner with Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, noted that civic engagement has been on the rise at the local government level as citizens have a broader range of platforms with which to express their views on projects, policies, bylaws and other local matters.

The vexing question for local government elected officials and staff alike is ‘where does civil discourse end and political incivility begin?’

Ms. Higgins observed that uncivil behaviour has risen since the 1970s with an increased polarization among political views coupled with major changes in the media environment. Social media provides individuals with uncivil behaviours with unprecedented capacity and opportunity for disseminating their views.

With the clinic focusing on the increase of disruptive behaviour by citizens towards local government council members and staff, Ms. Higgins provided some steps and options that could be taken to limit such conduct – including development of procedure bylaw or even legal actions dealing with defamation, restraining orders or other approaches.

Higgins provided examples of recent court cases where local governments commenced civil action against individuals due to behaviour that was disruptive to local government business. 

Higgins spoke to the importance for civic leaders to model and foster civil behaviour, quoting Goethe, who said, “kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound”.  

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