accountability and transparency

Summaries List

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City of Hamilton

September 07, 202207 September 2022

The Ombudsman reviewed a complaint that two meetings, one held by the Heritage Permit Review Sub-Committee and the Agriculture and the other by the Rural Affairs Advisory Committee for the City of Hamilton, were improperly closed to the public because of livestream issues. The Ombudsman found that one meeting experienced a technical glitch causing the livestream to go down for a brief period of time, and was unable to determine the quality or availability of the livestream for the other meeting.

Municipality of Casselman

August 19, 202219 August 2022

The Ombudsman received a complaint alleging that council for the Municipality of Casselman held a closed session on May 27, 2021, when three members of council participated in a video call pertaining to a development project with a neighbouring municipality. The presence of two members of council was never disclosed to other participants on the video call. The complainant was concerned that this gathering constituted an illegal meeting under the Municipal Act, 2001. The Ombudsman found that the video call did not contravene the Act because the discussions during the call were technical and informational in nature and did not materially advance council business or decision-making. However, the Ombudsman strongly encouraged the Municipality to maximize the transparency of its practices by disclosing the presence of all participants at any virtual gathering.

City of Niagara Falls (Downtown Business Improvement Area)

July 14, 202214 July 2022

The Ombudsman reviewed a closed meeting held by the Governance Committee for the Niagara Falls Downtown Business Improvement Area on January 12, 2022. The Committee did not report back to the public following its closed session about the nature of the in camera discussion. The Ombudsman recommended reporting back as a best practice to increase transparency of the closed meeting process.

City of Owen Sound

May 24, 202224 May 2022

The Ombudsman received a complaint alleging that council for the City of Owen Sound violated the open meeting rules found in the Municipal Act, 2001 on March 14, 2022. At the time, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, council chambers – where council and committee meetings are held by the City – were closed to members of the public; the public was, instead, given the option to watch the proceedings via livestream. The complaint alleged that the council meeting held on this date was improperly closed to the public because the public could not see who was present or how each council member voted, as that information was not displayed on the screen. The Ombudsman found that there was no contravention of the Act or the City’s procedural by-law; there is no requirement that the public be able to see who is present in council chambers, and the public was able to see the results of each vote during the meeting.

City of Hamilton

February 02, 202202 February 2022

The Ombudsman received a complaint about an electronic meeting held by the City of Hamilton’s Board of Health on August 11, 2021. The complaint alleged that during the meeting, the votes of individual Board members were not visible in real time. The Ombudsman found that there was no contravention of the open meeting rules in the Municipal Act, 2001 at this meeting. All meeting proceedings were streamed live online. The results of each vote were also announced verbally. A technical malfunction prevented the streaming software from displaying the breakdown of votes on-screen in real time.

Township of Bonfield

July 14, 202114 July 2021

The Ombudsman found that the Township of Bonfield violated the open meeting rules when it held meetings in May and June 2020 over Zoom, without broadcasting or otherwise making the meetings accessible to the public. The Ombudsman recognized that these were the first meetings held by the Township during the COVID-19 pandemic, but noted that the pandemic did not alter the open meeting requirements.

City of Hamilton

June 23, 202123 June 2021
The Ombudsman received complaints about vote results displayed to the public during electronic meetings held by the City of Hamilton. The complainants alleged that the results of a vote held by the City’s Board of Health during an electronic meeting on February 19, 2021, were not entirely visible to the public, contrary to the open meeting rules outlined in the Municipal Act, 2001. The City agreed to continue monitoring its electronic meeting software and to take appropriate measures to ensure that the vote results of electronic meetings are displayed in their entirety. 

City of Hamilton

April 22, 202122 April 2021
The Ombudsman reviewed an electronic meeting held by the LGBTQ advisory committee for the City of Hamilton. The Ombudsman found that during the open portion of the meeting, the public livestream was unavailable due to technical issues. Accordingly, the Ombudsman found that while the livestream was down, the public was excluded from the meeting and the meeting was illegally closed.

Town of Hawkesbury

March 29, 202129 March 2021
The Ombudsman received a complaint alleging that on June 15, 2020, a quorum of councillors for the Town of Hawkesbury discussed council business that they intended to introduce and vote on at a council meeting scheduled for the next day. The complaint alleged that this discussion amounted to a “meeting” and was improperly closed to the public contrary to the Municipal Act, 2001. The Ombudsman’s investigation found that the Mayor individually spoke with three councillors regarding employee terminations in separate discussions. The Ombudsman found that these serial discussions were not a meeting because a quorum of councillors was never present, as required by the definition of “meeting” in the Act.

Village of Westport

March 12, 202112 March 2021
The Ombudsman received a complaint regarding two meetings held by council for the Village of Westport on September 15, 2020. The complaint alleged that due to a technical issue, council did not livestream the virtual committee of the whole or special council meeting for the public. The complaint alleged that, as a result, these meetings were closed to the public contrary to the Municipal Act, 2001. The Ombudsman confirmed that the public was excluded from these meetings due to technical issues and that as a result, they were improperly closed to the public.
 

Township of Lanark Highlands

February 02, 202102 February 2021

The Ombudsman received complaints about the audio quality of a teleconference meeting held on August 11, 2020, by the committee of the whole for the Township of Lanark Highlands. The complainants alleged that the audio quality of the meeting was so poor that the public could not meaningfully follow the meeting. The Ombudsman acknowledged that poor audio quality of a teleconferenced meeting may interfere with the public’s ability to access a meeting. As a best practice, the Ombudsman suggested that municipalities take steps to monitor the clarity of such teleconferences to ensure that the public can follow municipal decision-making in a meaningful way. The Ombudsman did not find any violations of the Municipal Act’s open meeting requirements.

Township of Stone Mills

December 22, 202022 December 2020
The Ombudsman received complaints regarding meetings held by the Township of Stone Mills between August 10, 2020 and October 27, 2020. Specifically, the complainants disagreed with the municipality’s decision to hold in-person council meetings without providing members of the public with a way to watch the meeting remotely, such as through video or phone conferencing technology. The Ombudsman’s review determined that council initially chose to satisfy the Act’s requirement to hold open meetings by broadcasting virtual Zoom meetings on YouTube. As of August 2020, the Township changed its approach and decided to satisfy the Act’s open meeting requirement by holding in-person council meetings in consultation with the local public health unit. The Ombudsman’s review confirmed that the municipality provided public notice of its meetings from August 10 to October 27, 2020, and that members of the public were able to attend these meetings and see municipal decision-making in progress. The Ombudsman did not find any violations of the Act’s open meeting requirements.

Town of Pelham

June 10, 202010 June 2020

The Ombudsman received a complaint alleging that a quorum of councillors for the Town of Pelham informally met to discuss a possible donation from a cannabis producer on January 9, 2020, contrary to the open meeting rules of the Municipal Act, 2001. The Ombudsman found that the informal discussion did not contravene the Municipal Act’s open meeting requirements as the discussion did not materially advance council business as required by the Municipal Act. However, the Ombudsman found that the Town of Pelham acted without legal authority when it took action following this informal discussion. By failing to act through resolution and confirming by-law passed at a properly constituted council meeting, the municipality tried to shield its decision-making process from public scrutiny. These actions were contrary to law and wrong under section 21(1) of the Ombudsman Act.


Town of Pelham

June 10, 202010 June 2020
The Ombudsman received a complaint alleging that councillors for the Town of Pelham voted via email on whether they would be in favour of accepting a possible donation. The Ombudsman found that the email exchange did not contravene the Municipal Act’s open meeting requirements, which typically apply to “meetings” were a quorum of councillors is physically present. However, the Ombudsman found that the Town of Pelham acted without legal authority when it took action following this informal email exchange. By failing to act through resolution and confirming by-law passed at a properly constituted council meeting, the municipality tried to shield its decision-making process from public scrutiny. These actions were contrary to law and wrong under section 21(1) of the Ombudsman Act.
 

Township of Tehkummah

December 06, 201806 December 2018

The Ombudsman reviewed two meetings held by council for the Township of Tehkummah. During the meeting, it was alleged that the doors to the municipal building where the meeting was being held were locked and remained locked until the meeting was over. The Ombudsman was not provided with any evidence that could substantiate the allegation that the doors were locked. The Ombudsman noted that in future, the municipality should take steps to develop a clear policy on when the doors to the municipal building are locked and train its staff accordingly.

Village of Casselman

August 21, 201821 August 2018

The Ombudsman reviewed two information sessions relating to the business of the municipality attended by a quorum of council for the Village of Casselman. The Ombudsman found that the council members did not materially advance the business of the municipality during these information sessions. The council members only received information about ongoing projects in the municipality. There was no discussion among the council members present and no decisions were made. Even though the Ombudsman found that these information sessions did not constitute meetings under the Municipal Act, 2001, in the interests of openness and transparency he encouraged council to receive information and updates of this nature during public meetings.

Township of The North Shore

June 29, 201829 June 2018

The Ombudsman reviewed a closed meeting held by council for the Township of The North Shore relying on the personal matters exception to discuss a vacant council seat. During the closed session, council discussed whether to fill the vacancy by appointment or by by-election, and at least one identifiable individual who could fill the vacancy. The discussion about the identifiable individual involved personal information regarding qualifications and experience. The Ombudsman found that this portion of the discussion fit within the personal matters exception. However, the Ombudsman found that council’s discussion about how to fill the council vacancy (whether by appointment or by-election) did not include any personal information about an identifiable individual. Accordingly, this portion of the discussion did not fit within the personal matters exception.

Town of Petrolia

May 22, 201822 May 2018

In anticipation of council considering appointing a closed meeting investigator, the Town of Petrolia added a $250 complaint fee to its fees by-law. The open meeting law enforcement scheme is premised on a willing public coming forward to assist in ensuring that transparency is maintained at the municipal level. Charging a fee for complaining is entirely inconsistent with the primary intent of the open meeting provisions to foster democratic legitimacy at the local level. The Ombudsman encouraged the municipality to continue to permit members of the public to complain about alleged improperly closed meetings without charging a complaint fee.