Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Nanaimo To Ban All Signs From Council Chambers?

Let's Play Armchair Lawyer

For those council watchers among us, the past few meetings of city council have been interesting if not entertaining to say the least.

One of the 'issues' our new Mayor is taking a stand on is the matter of signs being displayed in the gallery. This first became an issue when an audience member displayed a sign inferring that our Mayor had flipped on some of his campaign promises. That time the offending gallery member did put down his sign as asked.

At a subsequent meeting another gallery member also displayed a sign and when asked by the Mayor to lower it, respectfully refused. No further action from the Chair.

Recently we had the meeting held up for 30 minutes or so when two gallery members were expelled for displaying signs as well.

At the July 6 SPCOW meeting the Mayor asked that signs not be held up and if the gallery would not comply he was going to recess until the gallery was cleared. An appeal from an audience member avoided that showdown, as the dams were the issue and not the signs.

At the July 6 meeting, Mayor McKay read aloud several legal opinions he has received which he offers as support for his decision to unilaterally ban signs from the gallery. Of course one or two legal opinions are never beyond challenge which is why we have so many lawyers willing to argue a case, and so many levels of Courts and Judges to decide those cases.

The Mayor seems of the opinion that his decision to ban all signs is authorized by Section 133 of the Community Charter which has some loose language stating that if someone is acting 'improperly' the Chair can expel them from the meeting.

Whether the Chair's unilateral banning of all signs from being displayed in the gallery and is not subject to a challenge under Section 132 will likely be the grounds for more debate at future Council Meetings and perhaps finally in court one day.

Is simply holding a sign in a council meeting considered behaving improperly, or would that be dependent on how the person was displaying the sign? What if a shirt has something written on it?

Are we now opening the door for the national spotlight as the Freedom of Speech defenders take up the cause, as displaying a sign is considered by many as a freedom of expression guaranteed under our Charter.

Authority of presiding member

132  (1) The mayor or the member presiding at a council meeting must preserve order and decide points of order that may arise, subject to an appeal under this section.
(2) On an appeal by a council member from a decision of the presiding member under subsection (1), the question as to whether the chair is to be sustained must be immediately put by the presiding member and decided without debate.
(3) As exceptions to section 123 [general voting rules],
(a) the mayor or other presiding member may not vote on a motion under subsection (2),
(b) the motion passes in the affirmative if the votes are equal, and
(c) the mayor or other presiding member must be governed by the result.
(4) If the mayor or presiding member refuses to put the question under subsection (2),
(a) the council must immediately appoint another member to preside temporarily,
(b) that other member must proceed in accordance with subsection (2), and
(c) a motion passed under this subsection is as binding as if passed under subsection (2).

Expulsion from meetings

133  (1) If the person presiding at a council meeting considers that another person at the meeting is acting improperly, the person presiding may order that the person is expelled from the meeting.
(2) If a person who is expelled does not leave the meeting, a peace officer may enforce the order under subsection (1) as if it were a court order.

allvoices

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