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Statement/ Letter from Chris Golden Re: Trespass from Acton High

[This should be labeled “Opinion” as it is written personally and does not necessarily reflect any of Acton UP, its writers, members or partners.] To Whom it May Concern: As many of you have either seen or heard on Tuesday, January 28, 2020, I was trespassed under protest and duress from Acton High School for asserting my right to “Freedom Of Press” and refusing to waive it. First, I want to thank those who have supported me in this matter without even being asked, whether by social media, private messages, or word of mouth. It is truly touching to see others stick UP for me. I did have another full letter drafted, citing some laws, but, upon researching further, I have since changed my stance. I will still include some of the law. I cannot confidently anymore say that I was completely in the right, and as media, we should be providing the correct information. It is a matter of integrity to do so. What I can say is this is an incredibly interesting, complicated and unique situation (hence the long letter), and all parties (myself included) were wrong on some things, and right on some things. I generally have no trouble admitting when I’m wrong, however this situation is particularly tough due to the strong position I took, but, if I did not admit all the facts, we would not be doing our job with Acton UP, and would be doing a disservice to the public. Now to speak to what happened… Displayed multiple places on various social media sources, the Boundary Review Committee’s meeting being held at Acton High was supposed to be a “public meeting” or “open to the public”, and I asked this multiple times in our live stream to those involved and it was confirmed repeatedly. My intention to film and live stream was because…

  • it was of public interest,

  • to provide a medium for people to watch who could not attend or easily view due to either disability, social anxiety, or simply the time the event was held ( as a few people have since commented or personally reached out to me and said it would be of value for this reason),

  • to hold people and administration accountable for what they say and choose,

  • to provide wider community engagement, and to

  • have full record to memorialize what could be a historical event, not only for Acton High and MSB, but our community as a whole.

I had arrived early to set UP some equipment, and was one of the first three people in the cafeteria at the time. Upon arriving I was approached by a superintendent and asked, “Oh, are you media? good. What are you doing? writing? or taking pictures or…?” to which I had responded “I am going to do a live stream”. After telling him about a live stream, he got very upset and responded “you can’t do that, did you ask for permission?”. I had responded “well this meeting is open to public right?” he responded “yes” to which I said “I don’t have to ask for permission then.” He disagreed. I explained to him it was “freedom of press” and Acton High is a public school, run under a public board, and this particular meeting and room is open to the public.” He had then asked for my “press credentials” to which I told him “I didn’t have press credentials on me”. And he said “well how do I know you’re press?” I then went on to tell him how “really I don’t need press credentials, as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”, and Universal Declaration of Human Rights etc. guarantees “Freedom Of Press is a Right which everyone has” (hence freedom). This applies for everyone, regardless of media company or independent journalist or citizen, and also applies for any particular medium the press may choose (written, audio, video, print, broadcast, radio, magazine, digital etc etc). I still did offer to show him our (Acton UP’s) website (which I am extremely visible on), to which he responded “anyone can make a website”. This is true, as anyone can also be press. Now usually at an event like this where I may not know everyone, I would generally wear press credentials, not because I have to, rather just to easily identify myself to individuals and put their mind at ease. Seeing as we had just hired a new contract writer and reporter the day prior, I had just given her my lanyard (replaced with her press credentials) upon hiring, planning to go and purchase more (lanyards) soon. This turned out to be a blessing and curse, as even though I did not have my press credentials, we did have another reporter who still did a fantastic job of getting the story (at least a written copy). When it comes to our press credentials. I am actually the one who prints our press credentials for Acton UP, as many media organizations print their own press credentials. I have even known some reporters (that work for bigger organizations than ours) who were not issued press credentials by their company that went and printed their own. The truth to the matter is, there is no overseeing body in Canada that prints or issues press credentials. Press credentials are not like a license. They do not grant you any extra rights compared to anyone else and there is no way to “authenticate” them other than calling the specific company they were issued by and asking “does this person work for you?” Whether you’re a citizen, New York Times, Fox or CNN, you are guaranteed the right of Freedom of Press. As Canadians this (freedom of press/ speech/ expression) is something we should all be proud of and valiantly protect. These words and what they mean are very important to me as I’m sure they are to many members of media. This is one of the (many) things that separates us from dictatorships that only have/ had state-controlled media, and where freedom of press/ speech/ expression (which fall under same section of law) does not exist. Now I want to start by saying, this was not the first time for me sticking UP for my rights, and certainly was not the first time me sticking UP for my rights as press. And in all of the other situations, they turned out fine and I was allowed my rights, and was right for protecting them, even if it took some time. However, those past situations do contrast with the present. As I can now tell any public building differs from (Public) School Boards and their properties, as you will read later. While myself and the Superintendent were arguing in different places from the hall to the cafeteria, parents and members of the committee started to pile in. Shortly after the meeting began. Upon the meeting starting, I quickly turned on my cellphone, published the live stream to Facebook, and did an intro to the live stream letting people know where I was, what was happening, and that it might get cut short as police have been called to talk to me. After doing the intro to the video I rushed towards back corner of the room totally out of the way (to be as un-disruptive as possible for those attending and in the audience) and put the camera on the tripod. Shortly after the 11 minute mark (of the video) police arrived on scene. The police started to enter the cafeteria, and I gave them a little nod to signify I would come to them (rather than being dragged out). Then I exited the cafeteria as un-disruptively as possible and proceeded to speak to them in the hallway. I do want apologize to any parents in attendance if this may have interrupted or disturbed you even if none of you indicated it to me. This was certainly not my intent. Since Tuesday January 28, 2020 , I have been contemplating, meditating, and researching. I have looked at legal definitions, rights, zoning, limitations to rights, acts case law, etc. preparing to fight the trespass. I was building more and more confidence in my position… Until I read the Trespass to Property Act. I have UP until this point always known and respected (apparently except for School Board Properties) the difference between Private and Public property and followed those rules that go with each properly. We have asked many private property owners for permission to film on their property, and as for public property and spaces we have not. As media, that is what we are allowed to do. I have even asked Schools for their permission for things we were filming when students were in school. However, this situation with the school board is incredibly unique, and was something I was unaware of at the time when making the video. It was also something that I was unprepared and unaccustomed to as I have done video at Acton High School and other various forms of press multiple times without prior permission for other events that were “open to public”. So how is this situation unique? Well I was correct in saying Acton High is a public school, and HDSB is a public school board, and this particular meeting was “open to public” as confirmed multiple times in the video and would be an agreed upon fact by all parties involved. However, I was unaware of the special privileges that the School Board has that no other public entity does. When entering Acton High I thought it was just like any other public place. It is public but has restrictions. An example I will give is Prospect Park. Prospect Park is a public place. There’s no need to get any special permission to film in Prospect Park. However even being public, there are restrictions, such as, when the park closes, or the public washrooms there, or the “staff only” parts like the water or electrical facilities. Those are all restricted areas and are not open to public (at least for filming). A maybe better example I will give is Halton Hills Town Hall or Arenas (as they’re a building). Halton Hills’s Town Hall is also a public place, but has restricted areas. I could go on their property and film (or do any other press), and I could go into any part of the building that is open to the public. There would be restricted areas, such as behind closed doors or anything clearly labeled. I obviously could not just waltz into a locker room or staff room. My point being, all public places have restrictions, I am well aware of this, but the key phrase for me has always been “Open to public”. Unless clearly labeled which Acton High is certainly not, as present day Google street view images show no visible “no trespassing” signs or anything that would lead you to believe it is not public. So seeing how to the best of my knowledge at the time, Acton High was a public school, owned by a public board. I figured during the (school) day its public use is limited or restricted to students. After school, as I’m sure many of you know, Acton High has people using its facilities such as the track or basketball court in the back. I assume it also follows an 11:00pm curfew such as the park. I therefore figured it was just like any other public place that had restrictions. I figured that the Superintendent was just someone overstepping their boundaries of authority, as I have had to stand UP to many times before. However… It’s funny how one sentence can change everything in law. Upon researching further, it turns out school boards are unlike ANY other public entity. Under the “trespass to property act” they are given the same standing as an “occupier”. Therefore, the board, was within their power to trespass myself from the property, for any reason. But, also under the “Trespass to property act” I feel I have “Colour of Right” as a strong defence given all of the circumstances, even though I was not charged or fined. Now while this may be the case, and I was wrong in asserting my rights as far as I did, I still feel this is unconstitutional and gives overbearing powers to a public entity (whether the Trespass to property act itself or the board). Maybe this is something that needs to be taken up with the Government of Ontario as opposed to the board and the police, as they were within their power to trespass me at the time. While I was well aware of the limitations between private and public, I was unaware of the special (in my opinion unconstitutional) privileges the Trespass to Property act grants to Public School Boards. I wasn’t practicing journalism in 2006 when the act was instated, if I was, I probably would a raised a stink about it then. Where I think it is unconstitutional is the reason Freedom of Press, Expression, Belief, Opinion and Thought exist. This is so government agencies cannot trample on them, and there is a medium (being the public) to keep these entities in check and communicate when they are doing wrong. These things all fall under the same section of the Charter and law as they are all forms of expression. Some people communicate through talking, while other communicate through text or video or whatever. Video is a particularly great medium as it provides audio for blind people, and can have closed captioning for deaf people. It is the only medium of press where you get the “full picture”, at least when it is unedited. Which is why live streams are particularly valuable. With the meeting being open to the public, or a public meeting, and parents and public being invited to ask questions and speak their mind, is really the same as saying “we are allowing for this expression to take place”, all of which fall under section 2.b of the Charter. The trespass act in my opinion gives overbearing powers that I have never seen afforded to any Public/ Government agency. Having an open public meeting there is kind of like saying “we are having a public meeting here because it is in public interest, and you are free to speak your mind and express yourself. However, we have to agree with what you say or how you express yourself or we can kick you out”. Which under the Trespass to Property act the school board could do. Or it would be saying “yeah you can come to our meeting and you can speak english, but if you speak Spanish we can kick you out”, which under the Trespass to Property Act, the School Board could also arguably do. So In the end, I feel a combination of wrong and right. I was wrong in my assessment of that particular building, and not being familiar with the Trespass to Property Act and the special powers it grants to school boards in particular. Where I do feel the School Board or Government is wrong is because Open to Public meetings should never happen in School Board Buildings as it allows the board to kick someone out on a whim for whatever the property manager may see fit. So much as having a different opinion would allow you to be kicked off of school board property, and these are the places (schools) where different opinions, expressions and rights in general should be cherished. I think it is particularly troubling for students as they may be trespassed from the property just because a member of administration does not like them or is vindictive. It really gives overbearing powers to the Administration over parents and students and public. I also feel they were wrong in saying they were "allowing Freedom of Press” just not certain types of press, which is not freedom of press, but rather limited or restricted press. Not all press is written. They were also wrong in saying that the meeting was “Open to Public” however in fact it was only semi-open or open with restrictions/ limitations to certain types of public. Not to mention, they werewrong by saying they would allow me to write or take pictures but not record, as record by their (HDSB) own definitions according to their surveillance policy is defined as: “Record is defined by MFIPPA as any record of information, however recorded, whether in printed form, on film, by electronic means or otherwise, and includes but is not limited to a photograph, film, microfilm, videotape, digital recording, machine-readable record, and any record that is capable of being produced from a machine-readable record. “ Legally “record” is defined By Blacks Law Dictionary 9th edition as: So ultimately I feel this was all a big misunderstanding, not only on my behalf but also on the Administrations’s. The meeting was labeled incorrectly, as do I feel are the terms “Public school” and “Public School Board”. The Superintendent’s interpretation of Freedom of Press and the words “open and public” were wrong, and they were wrong saying “Acton High is private”, when it is not, they are just granted the same privilege of the rights that private property owners have. On my behalf, my interpretation of what a school board’s powers (being a public entity) were also wrong and when being told to do something by the administration, I should have listened. So in conclusion, I do apologize for where I was wrong. SIncerely, Chris Golden, Founder, Acton UP P.S. I have included some legal definitions as well as the Trespass to Property Act below so this can at least be a learning experience for us all. That is and should be the ultimate goal of School and News. Black's Law Dictionary 9th edition: Google Dictionary: Video Surveillance Policy HDSB. Trespass to Property Act.

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