Last week we ran Dan Westwood’s letter No need to be welcomed as guests.
We received a lot of responses to Mr. Westwood’s letter, many of them critical of the letter, some critical of the Free Press, some in support of Mr. Westwood’s letter and some in support of the Free Press running Mr. Westwood’s letter.
I’d like to start by apologizing for the inconsistent capitalization of “Chief.” That was an oversight on our end.
I will not defend Mr. Westwood’s stance but I will defend his right to have his letter included in the letters section, disagreeable as it may be to many readers.
There’s no doubt that to many readers the letter is disagreeable if not offensive and hurtful. However, the potential for a letter to be disagreeable, offensive or hurtful, is not a justifiable reason to reject a letter to the editor or to stop it from running in the paper. Many of the letters to the editor opposed to the South Cariboo Rec Centre expansion were likely hurtful to the volunteers who put in many hours to put the proposal together, however, there was no question on whether or not we were running those letters. Letters by nature are disagreeable and it would be tough to find any newspaper worth reading with a letters section that is solely agreeable. Personally, I disagree with many of the opinions expressed in the letters section of the Free Press. However, it’s not supposed to be a reflection of my personal opinions; it’s supposed to reflect a diverse set of opinions about various community issues.
I’d also like to address the notion that because we didn’t cover Chief Helen Henderson’s speech any letters on the topic should have been excluded from the letters section. The letters section can and should be about any issues of concern to our readers. A letters section in any paper that is only open to stories covered in the paper would be of serious concern, especially in the current journalism landscape where many towns only have a single newspaper. The letters section is not only there to critique or comment on the stories in the paper but also to raise issues that the paper may have missed or is ignoring. If our mayor or a council member said something as part of their public function, whether it was on something that had already been in the public sphere or not, that would undoubtedly be open to letters.
Obviously, there are reasons to exclude or reject letters to the editor. However, the Chief is an elected official and her speech was part of that function in representing the Canim Lake Band. As such, her remarks should be open to public criticism.
Personally, I’m a big believer in public discussion, perhaps even more so when it comes to divisive issues. There is no path forward, no opportunity to learn if we put groups in the corner because of their opinion. By submitting his letter, Mr. Westwood opened a door to public discourse and learning: let’s grab that opportunity with both hands.