Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ombudsman Says Local Councils Should Face Fines or Jail If They Meet in Secret

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ombudsman Says Local Councils Should Face Fines or Jail If They Meet in Secret

Article excerpt

Ombudsman wants local council meetings public

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TORONTO - Local politicians in Ontario should face fines or even jail time for meeting in secret without good reason, Ombudsman Andre Marin said Tuesday in a report that lashed out at several municipal councils across the province.

There are no penalties for violating the law that requires municipal councils to conduct their business in public, as there are in many American states, so some councillors across Ontario don't take the issue seriously enough, complained Marin.

"Some states provide that councillors are liable for prosecution, fines and jail, for meeting secretly, and that really elevates the principal of transparency and puts it on a pedestal," he said.

"Right now municipal councils, some of them at least, play loose with the rules because there are no consequences. If there was a consequence such as a fine or imprisonment, councillors would think twice about breaking those rules."

The government watchdog found the majority of municipal councils in Ontario follow the rules, but said some are "shockingly secretive, suspicious and resentful of the very idea they can be investigated" for meeting behind closed doors.

"In London, an example out of the Twilight Zone, is the obsession by some councillors with obtaining the names of people who complained to the office, calling them accusers, (talking about) the right to face your accuser, and referring to ombudsman oversight as creating a police state," said Marin.

A series of closed-door meetings held by city council in Sudbury did fit within the exemption for "personal matters about an identifiable individual." However, every councillor asked to have a lawyer and ten refused to participate after being told they could not have legal representation for a meeting with an Ombudsman's investigator.

"Three of 13 councillors chose to participate and the rest snubbed the office," said Marin.

Municipal councils in smaller communities were also willing to break the rules and meet privately when it suited their needs, added Marin. …

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