The B.C. Ombudsman Jay Chalke has found that the BC Orders to allow electronic meeting with no public present were illegal. The Province is considering new legislation that puts limits on how city councils can use emergency powers. Two Public Hearings are scheduled for this week, one tonight (June 23) and one on Thursday (June 25). What will their status be now, at the last minute?
On June 22, 2020, the B.C. Ombudsperson issued a media release and report, finding that two pandemic emergency orders were not authorized by the provincial Emergency Program Act. See below for excerpts of the release and a link to the report.
Under the two emergency orders, the Vancouver city staff rushed to direct our Mayor and Council to blaze ahead with non-emergency, regular Council business, bylaw amendments, rezonings, and Public Hearings. They are using systems with many technical and procedural problems to hold meetings with no members of the public, and not even Council members present in person. Many such meetings have already been held by City Council. A record SEVEN more Public Hearings are scheduled in June and July, featuring some major rezonings and bylaw amendments. Some residents have found that the big rush appears to be opportunistic, to advance senior staff’s agenda during the pandemic.
Many citizens and residents’ associations in Vancouver did challenge Mayor and Council and articulated concerns about them blazing ahead with electronic meetings on non-emergency business in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic lock-down and emergency measures.
New legislation is being discussed. It remains to be seen whether previous decisions and approvals made by Council will be deemed to have been invalid or illegal? Will they have to be redone? What about the busy upcoming Council meeting schedule? A close look at the proposed legislation might give a sign of what is to come. Stay tuned…
MEDIA RELEASE (excerpt)
Extraordinary Times, Extraordinary Measures: Two ministerial orders made under the Emergency Program Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (Monday, June 22, 2020)
Two ministerial orders made during the COVID-19 pandemic by BC’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General went beyond the authority assigned to him under the Emergency Program Act and thus are contrary to law, an Ombudsperson investigation released today finds.
“In a provincial emergency the Solicitor General has additional extraordinary powers,” said Ombudsperson Jay Chalke. “The issue we investigated is whether those extra powers include the ability for the minister to suspend or temporarily amend BC statutes and we concluded the minister does not have that authority, even in an emergency. I recognize speed was important in responding to the pandemic however, while the intent and even the content of these orders may be worthy, that is not enough. Every exercise of public authority in a democratic system must find its source in law,” said Chalke.
The BC Order M19 issued June 2020 to replace previous ones.
The BC Legislation being enacted with First Reading June 22, 2020 to plug all the holes.