Insulting a police officer or municipal official on the internet has been made illegal in the town of Granby, Que., after the council voted unanimously tonight in favour of beefing up an already controversial bylaw.
In Granby — a town situated about 80 kilometres east of Montreal — it was already illegal to insult a police officer and other municipal officials. Offenders could face fines ranging from $100 to as high as $1,000.
Tonight, the town council strengthened that bylaw to include online insults.
"In my opinion, if I threaten you via my keyboard, it's as though I am making that threat right in front of you.… For me, it's the same thing," said Robert Riel, Granby's deputy mayor.
The move comes after town officials discovered a Facebook page called Les policiers zélé de Granby — The Zealous Police of Granby.
Riel said the town of Granby is the first in Quebec to have such a bylaw that extends to the internet.
Attack on freedom of speech, critics say
Julius Grey, a constitutional lawyer, said the bylaw is an attack on freedom of speech.
"What you're going to be having is a trial of speech every time a municipal employee or a policemen considers himself insulted. I think this is absolutely terrible," Grey said.
"I don't think it'll stand up — I hope it doesn't stand up — to judicial review. I hope it gets struck as soon as someone is charged under it."
Some residents present at Monday evening's council meeting spoke out against the proposed bylaw amendment that would allow fines for insulting police online.
"I just couldn't believe it — there's no way that they could even imagine passing such a law. In what decade are we living in? Social media exists. Yes, it exists, but it exists for everybody, and I don't know how police have to … be given more respect than anybody else," said Granby resident Gail Sheppard.
Granby police would not comment, but did tell CBC News they were eagerly awaiting the result of Monday night's vote.