Letter to the Editor

So our esteemed librarian, Michele Burton, has been character-assassinated by anonymous posts on the ?Citizens for a Better TR? blog-site. The Tumbler Ridge Public Library has become an incidental casualty. One wonders whether the authors of these posts care that innocent people?s lives can be ruined by this sort of action. But, sheltering behind the seemingly secure veil of blog-site anonymity, they smear people through libelous and mean accusations that they are not prepared to put their signatures to, or to report to the RCMP.

How does an accused respond to this? Fight or flight? It would not surprise me if flight is a serious option. There are larger communities where a great librarian may be better shielded from this kind of poisonous inanity. But I hope this does not happen; Michele is simply too priceless a community asset to lose, and giving in to these cowardly rumour-mongerers would send all sorts of wrong messages.

Michele has certainly opened herself to such attacks, by being a bridge-builder, by creating partnerships, by enhancing the scope and nature of the library, by being courteous and approachable, in short by helping to make our library the envy of others, and a warm heart of the community (not to mention her numerous volunteer activities). Naturally, this kind of success evokes jealousy, bitterness, and even hatred in those so inclined.

There is a solution to this sad state of affairs. IP addresses are traceable, and I suspect that in this case they could be obtained, and the perpetrators identified. For the good of our community, those responsible could, and should, be unmasked and should face the consequences of their actions. Perhaps the Library Board, chaired by the widely-respected Bob Norman, could consider launching a libel suit.

Michele is not the first public Tumbler Ridge figure to be thus vilified, and unless something is done about it, chances are she won?t be the last. Her case raises the issue of who is going to be the next victim. Maybe it is time to publicly air the view that the blog-site, in its current form, and regardless of what may be laudable intentions, is doing more harm than good for the community. Ostensibly designed in part to expose corruption and non-performance in local government, and to enhance democracy, it ends up eroding that democracy and the fabric of our society.

But again, there is a simple solution. Although it was a rather painful experience for me to sift through all the negative stuff, a glance at the literature on this site revealed that those who signed their names to their posts (Erin Hanna, Bev Huston, Bob Norman, Ellen Sager, Jerrilyn Schembri, Mike Sidwell, Lynn Way) generally had constructive, caring things to say, even when they became righteously indignant. The anonymous writers (big surprise) in addition to an apparent tendency towards illiteracy, tended to write unsubstantiated, negative, quite amazingly critical comments about, well, just about everything, including about each other.

The concept of an internet discussion forum, separate from the District website, is sound. It is the anonymity that is the culprit. There are some justifications for anonymity in a democratic society, but they are very, very few. In a nutshell: if you are not prepared to put your name to it, don?t say it. In future, the blog-master should simply insist that writer?s name and address accompany the post, and the problem will be solved. Until such time as this happens, perhaps those that do sign their names should refrain from posting, for to do so only fosters the credibility and importance of the anonymous (whom I suspect are actually few in number, long on free time, and prodigious in output).

Let us hope that good can come out of bad, and that the pursuing of these individuals and bringing them to justice will not only vindicate Michele and the Library (although I am sure that thinking people long ago recognized this slander for what it is) but will help clear our community of this blot. I, for one, salute Michele Burton for the wonderful difference she has made to Tumbler Ridge, and the volunteer Library Board for the thankless task they perform so well.

And hats off to Councillor Kirby and Mayor Caisley for raising the importance of this issue at Council level, and publicly coming out in defence of Michele. There is nothing quite like a bit of political support from elected officials at times like these.


Dr Charles Helm