The City of Ottawa is a leader in the province in open meetings and already has many best-practice open meeting procedures in place. These practices include: advertising meetings; publishing agendas and reports seven days in advance of the meeting; stating the specific reason for moving in camera and providing "reporting out dates" for confidential reports once decisions have been finalized.
According to the Municipal Act, 2001, all municipal councils and local boards, with some exceptions, must hold meetings that are open to the public with the exception of a few specific matters. Further, those meetings closed to the public may now be subject to an investigation. City Council has gone beyond the provisions in the Act for openness by directing staff to incorporate the specific subject matter to be discussed in camera in addition to the reason under Section 239 of the Municipal Act, 2001.
The Municipal Act, 2001, as amended by Bill 130, requires that local boards as well as municipal councils hold meetings that are open and accessible to the public. The Act does not have one single definition of a local board and various boards are exempt from certain parts of the Act. City staff have begun a review of Ottawa’s Agencies, Boards, Committees and Commissions in order to clarify which local boards are subject to Municipal Act requirements.
The following are not local boards under the Municipal Act. These boards, therefore, are not subject to the City of Ottawa’s meeting provisions and Meetings Investigator but are governed by their own legislation:
- Conservation Authorities;
- Police Services Boards;
- School Boards; and
- Public Library Boards.
Matters that can be considered in closed meetings
The City of Ottawa holds the vast majority of its Standing Committee and City Council meetings in open session as a matter of course. In those cases where Committee or Council has gone in camera, the subject matter fell under one of the seven discretionary exceptions in Section 239 of the Municipal Act, 2001.
Bill 130 amended Section 239 of the Municipal Act, 2001 with respect to reasons for holding closed meetings, as well as increased notice and records requirements for closed meetings.
Section 239 of the Municipal Act, 2001 permits closed meetings of City Council, a local board or a committee of either, to discuss the following:
- The security of the property of the municipality or local board
- Personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees
- A proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land by the municipality or local board
- Labour relations or employee negotiations
- Litigation or potential litigation, including matters before administrative tribunals, affecting the municipality or local board
- Advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose
- A matter in respect of which a council, board, committee or other body may hold a closed meeting under another Act.
Further, meetings of City Council, a local board or a committee of either may be closed to the public if:
- The meeting is held for the purpose of educating or training the members
- At the meeting, no member discusses or otherwise deals with any matter in a way that materially advances the business or decision-making of the council, local board or committee.
In order to close a meeting to the public, City Council or the local board must state by resolution that a closed meeting will be held and state the general nature of the matter to be considered at the closed meeting. As previously noted, City Council goes further to incorporate the specific subject matter to be discussed in camera as part of the resolution. Public notice of a meeting is also required.
City Council and local boards are also required to record, without comment, all resolutions, decisions and other proceedings of both open and closed meetings.
Investigation of closed meetings
Prior to January 1, 2008, if someone felt that a meeting of City Council, a local board or committee was closed to the public contrary to the Municipal Act or the City’s Procedure By-law, that person’s only recourse to question the appropriateness of the procedure was through the courts. City Council has now provided a means by which such questions may be investigated much more quickly and at no cost to the citizen.
The newly appointed Meetings Investigator can investigate closed meetings of:
- Municipal councils;
- Municipal boards, including boards of health or planning boards;
- Transportation commissions;
- Any other board, commission, committee, body, or local authority established or exercising any power under any Act with respect to the affairs or purposes of one or more municipalities.
Anyone wishing to question the appropriateness of a meeting of one of the above bodies that was closed in full or in part to the public may now simply complete and submit a Request for Investigation of a Closed Meeting form to the City Clerk. Upon receipt of the form from the City Clerk’s office, the Meetings Investigator will decide whether an investigation is warranted and, if so, conduct his investigation and submit his findings and recommendations to an open meeting of City Council or the local board.
There is no fee required for submitting a Request for Investigation.
The investigative process is as follows:
- Investigations are initiated by the completion and submission to the City Clerk of Request for Investigation form.
- The Request for Investigation form is logged and forwarded to the Meetings Investigator together with an initial collection of Council/Committee information relating to the meeting.
- The Meetings Investigator will review the request to determine whether a further investigation is warranted.
- If the Investigator decides to pursue the request, he will inform City Council via a memo (as per the current MFIPPA process), launch an investigation, and collect all the relevant information required. Upon completion of the investigation, the Investigator will report his findings and recommendations to Council and/or the local board.
- The investigation will be completed and reported on within 30 calendar days of the initial request.
It should be noted that the investigation provisions only apply to meetings held on or after January 1, 2008.