Rebuke to Council in Ontario sends a stern message to municipal politicians across Canada about holding in-camera council meetings
Ottawa (26 June 2007) - The Supreme Court of Canada has issued a stern warning to municipal councils across the country against holding meetings in secret.
In a 7-0 ruling, the top court has ruled that the city of London, Ont., violated a provincial ruling limiting in-camera council meetings when it met twice behind closed doors to impose a controversial freeze on a local development project.
After debating the issue in secret, the council held a brief public meeting to formalize its decision. Its handing of the issue violated the Ontario Municipal Act, the court ruled.
The decision has ramifications for secrecy-prone municipalities across Canada, not just in Ontario where the law specifies that all council meetings must take place in public except in narrow well-defined circumstances.
The statute identifies seven categories in which closed meetings can be permitted. They are matters related to security of property, acquisition and disposition of lands, personal issues related to identifiable individuals, employee relations, litigation, matters of solicitor-client privilege and matters related to other boards or bodies that are allowed by the Act to hold closed meetings. All deliberations outside these areas must be held in public.
Transparency and accountability
"The open meeting requirement reflects a clear legislative choice for increased transparency and accountability in the decision-making process of local governments..." Justice Louise Charron wrote on behalf of the top court.
"Further, the city’s disregard of its statutory obligation to hold public meetings in this case was neither inadvertent nor trivial," she added.
”The open meeting requirement reflects a clear legislative choice for increased transparency and accountability in the decision-making process of local governments. The city council's conduct in closing the two meetings in question was neither inadvertent nor trivial," she wrote.
”Municipal law was changed to require that municipal governments hold meetings that are open to the public in order to imbue municipal governments with a robust democratic legitimacy."
Samuel Troscow, a University of Western Ontario law professor, said it would be wrong to interpret the ruling as simply a victory for developers.
”I think that the reason the Supreme Court took this case was that they wanted to make a very strong statement to the public about the right to open meetings,” Trosow told the Toronto Globe and Mail. ”This is a case of interest to every city in Canada. I think that every city solicitor will be sending a memo to council today about it.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE
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