By Tim Kalinowski
A Redcliff town councillor says a proposed bylaw amendment is lacking in transparency, violates human rights and contravenes Redcliff citizens’ constitutional rights.
Coun. Larry Leipert had nothing nice to say about the proposed amendment, which was introduced Tuesday night.
“I don’t think you can think of anything worse than this particular bylaw as far as human rights’ violations and where you put one person in charge of making a decision whether somebody can bring something to your government,” said Leipert.
The proposed amendment, which passed first reading by a vote of 6-1, outlines new guidelines and restrictions on “Communications with Litigants.” Under the amendment, council or the municipal manager would have the power to bar those with outstanding lawsuits against the town from addressing council meetings as a delegation. It goes so far as to bar persons with “an apparent or possible relation (with a litigant) as in an employee, consultant, family member, shareholder, director or otherwise” from presenting as a delegation as well.
Leipert said the wording of this section of the amendment could be unconstitutional.
“My interpretation is it says where you are a relative of that person, or associated with them in any other way, you too could become restrictive if you are associated with that person. And you would be painted with the same brush. These people aren’t terrorists. They do have a right to litigate. It is just way too broad and it’s unnecessary. And it does violate constitutional rights.”
Mayor Ernie Reimer disagreed with Leipert, citing recent cases, without naming individuals, where council has felt abused by litigants who have come to meetings to berate council under the guise of making a delegation.
“This gives us some protection, otherwise they keep coming back and they hound us and hound us,” said Mayor Reimer. “There is only so many times you’re going to be able to kick a dog and he’s going to start barking back at you. We have accommodated these people. We’ve been open and we’ve showed them. It’s online now. They can get all the information they want.”
Another section of the same bylaw amendment also states “Where in the view of the municipal manager, a person has commenced a legal proceeding against the municipality, or there is the demand or the potential for commencement of a legal proceeding against the municipality by a person, the municipal manager may make a direction as to the appropriate communication protocol between the person and the municipality.”
“Potential for commencement of a legal proceeding” would include, under the wording of the amendment, things such as arbitration proceedings and tribunals but would also extend to petitions brought by Redcliff residents before council, Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPP) requests or an inquiry by the Minister of Municipal Affairs.
Coun. Leipert said this section of the proposed amendment clearly violates the greater transparency recommendations set out by the Municipal Affairs inspection report in 2014. He quoted from the report: “That the council include in the procedural bylaw specific criteria regarding delegations that wish to address council that provides for a more inclusive and transparent process that removes discretionary authority from the Mayor and the CEO.”
“There is actually a duty to assess people when they come, and not everybody is going to agree with everything. This (amendment) is not the level of service that people who are voting for us are expecting of us,” said Leipert.
Coun. Chere Brown disagreed with Leipert’s contention the proposed amendment goes against the Municipal Affairs’ inspection report recommendation.
“We’ve been through all of that (municipal inspection) process and I think we are past that,” said Brown. “Our staff is not being able to do their job to actually look after the town. There are people out there, for lack of a better word, that are abusing their citizenship so we have to do something to corral that.”
Mayor Reimer agreed with Coun. Brown and further stated the proposed amendment does not constitute a lack a transparency in his view.
“We’re not barring anybody. They can still come to public meetings, but, depending on what their subject is, we look at them first to see what they are about,” said Reimer. “You don’t want to have someone come in there just screaming and hollering and giving us all heck. We have to have something to protect us. Sometimes those accusations are unfounded and we are berated right in council.”
The News sought the opinion of Municipal Affairs on the proposed bylaw amendment. According to public affairs officer Jerry Ward the ministry does not comment on bylaws passed by a local community councils, and says it is up to citizens to take legal action if they feel a bylaw contravenes the law.
“Our legislation is prescriptive in the sense that it just outlines the best practices for the legislation,” said Ward. “It’s up to those locally elected officials to work within those parameters. And it would be up to eligible electors to pursue through the courts something that they perceive as unjust.”