17 OMLET staff were informed that, prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, as a matter of custom, council for the City of Niagara Falls opened its meetings with one of the council members reciting a prayer or reading. This responsibility rotated amongst the council members. Most councillors opened the meeting with the Lord’s Prayer; however, some members of council chose to recite other readings or prayers.
18 When asked about the Clerk’s memo, the CAO stated that it was more of a “heads up” and that there was no opinion or staff report about it at the time.
19 The resolution to go into closed session on April 28, 2015 cited the “advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege” and “potential litigation” exceptions to the open meeting requirements in order to discuss matters related to Ontario Municipal Board hearings. There was no item related to prayer in the closed session resolution.
20 The minutes of the closed session note that it began at 4:30 p.m. and that all members of council were present. The minutes show that matters relating to Ontario Municipal Board hearings were discussed, and that one item was sent for ratification in open session and another referred to staff. The closed session adjourned at 4:50 p.m. There is no record of a discussion having taken place during the closed session with respect to prayer.
21 When asked whether or not council members had discussed the prayer in closed session, the Clerk explained that the closed session was only for the litigation matters.
Between the closed and open meetings
22 Interviews with the Mayor and councillors confirm that there was a brief discussion about the council prayer between the closed session and the regular meeting of council on April 28, 2015. Accounts of the discussion were consistent, although one councillor, Mike Strange, had no recollection of the conversation.
23 According to the eight council members who recalled what happened on April 28, as they were leaving the closed session and preparing to attend the regular meeting of council, Mayor Jim Diodati asked, “What are we doing about the prayer?”
24 According to the Mayor, he typically posed this question before each open session of council, as council members gathered in the antechamber between the closed meeting room and the council chamber, in order to identify who would be reciting the prayer or reading. Once a councillor was selected, council members would enter the chamber and the meeting would begin with the prayer or reading.
25 That evening, the Mayor’s question prompted Councillors Joyce Morocco and Carolynn Ioannoni to state their opinions about prayer in council and the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision. The Mayor then asked if Councillor Victor Pietrangelo would do the reading he always led with, as it was “innocuous.” Councillor Pietrangelo agreed to do so.
26 Councillors Wayne Thomson, Wayne Campbell, Kim Craitor and Vince Kerrio did not participate in this discussion.
27 Those who recalled the conversation characterized it as casual banter as they walked out into the council chamber.
28 Once council had entered chambers for the regular meeting, Councillor Pietrangelo opened the meeting with his reading.
29 The minutes make no mention of the memo from the Clerk or of any discussion of council prayer.
30 When asked why the memo was not discussed at the council meeting, the Mayor explained that council had started the same way for many years and he wanted to wait for more information, so he asked Councillor Pietrangelo to go ahead with his regular reading.
31 Although not specifically discussed at council during its April 28, 2015 meeting, there was media coverage in Niagara Falls with respect to the council prayer. The two excerpts below relate directly to the issue in the complaint: