Disclosure, in the world of law enforcement, is the term used to describe the requirement for the prosecution to disclose all evidence that they have in their possession, to the accused. Nothing can be held back and if it is, the case can be seriously compromised.
As a former police officer I was familiar with the disclosure requirement. I was required (as are all police officers) to make a copy of all notes taken during an investigation. Disclosure packages included copies of police reports, documents, photographs, and everything else that would be used in the prosecution of a person charged with an offence had to be provided to the accused. Disclosure applies to all types of offences from homicide right down to parking violations and everything in between.
Going back a step in the process, before a police officer can even begin to process a charge against a person, the police officer has to have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed. The grounds to believe that an offence has been committed must be clearly articulated and those grounds are subject to examination by the court. You can’t just go out there and charge a person with an offence without have grounds to do so.
Fast forward a few years to the situation that I am facing with the local municipal government. In March 2014 the reeve of the municipal council of the RM of Shellmouth-Boulton sent me a letter barring me from attending the council office. The letter dictates that I refrain from all types of communication (in person, by telephone, email, etc.) with the office staff. The letter demands that I route all communication to the office through a particular councillor. The justification provided for this action, as started in the letter, is that my repeated attendance at the office demanding information is making the staff uncomfortable. I have challenged the former council on the justification for this letter and these conditions and have gotten nowhere. I have tried to find out exactly what it was that I did that warranted this action. I will admit that I did repeatedly attend the council office requesting information. Where else was I to go to get information such as by-laws, minutes and agendas for council meetings except to the council office? The information was not available anywhere else. They did not even have their own website and the website that they used was frequently outdated for the information that I required. The CAO is required by law to provide this information. When she failed to provide it, I persisted. What else was I to do?
Given the fact that their stated justification that my repeated attendances, requests and demands for information made no sense, what else was being said to justify this banishment? I asked both the former council, and now the new council, to hear my side of the story and to tell me what their side of the story was. They have failed to tell me anything else.
This creates an interesting situation. Police officers, dealing with people who they have reasonable and probable grounds to believe have committed an offence, are required to disclose all information in their possession to the accused. A municipal council on the other hand, can try and convict an individual and impose sanctions without any requirement to provide the individual with any details of the alleged infraction. In fact, when I questioned the new council on the continued sanctions, one of the councillors stated that they could not change the conditions because they did not have sufficient information to do so. You would think that the absence of information would have caused them to want to suspend this unreasonable action at least until they were sure that it was justified. Instead, they chose to continue my banishment.
I wanted the new council to consider my side of the story. I also wanted to hear the facts that they were given from the person(s) making the allegations against me. I wanted disclosure. It seemed to me that disclosure would be fair. Let’s put the facts on the table so that we can all understand what is going on.
I eventually secured a hearing with the new councillors at a special meeting held on June 24th, 2015. When this special meeting was convened the reeve changed the rules before we even got started. First there was no sign that the CAO or the assistant CAO, the two administrative staff that were apparently made to feel uncomfortable by my actions, were going to be present to explain what the problem was. In addition, council changed the conditions of the special meeting. They had agreed to hold this meeting to provide me with sufficient time to state my case and to answer questions. When the meeting started the reeve stated ‘Rod, you have one hour.’
If you have ever heard the term ‘kangaroo court’ this was one. My presentation was rushed because of the one hour time limit. At the end of the hour I was cut off. There was no opportunity for a question and answer period and I certainly was not given an opportunity to hear the case against me. If they had any discussion about what I told them or if they made any attempt to verify anything that I said, it was done in my absence.
I attended the next meeting of council only to have the reeve tell me that they would not make a decision on my matter as one of the councillors was absent. This is interesting. They had a quorum and quite properly made several other decisions despite the fact that this councillor was absent. But my matter was deferred to the next meeting of council.
At that meeting , a resolution was presented to maintain the restriction on my access to the municipal office. Four councillors voted for the resolution and four voted against. The reeve delayed his vote until the tied vote was evident. He then cast the deciding vote in favour of maintaining my restriction. It was interesting to note that the councillor who was absent from the previous meeting was one of the four who voted to maintain my restriction. Had the vote been taken at the previous meeting with him absent, it would have been defeated. The resolution would have been defeated even if the reeve had voted along with the other councillors (as he should do in any case) because, according to their own Procedures By-Law, a tied vote is defeated. Only when a majority of the councillors voting for a resolution is that resolution passed.
The fix was in! The reeve delayed the vote until he had sufficient support to maintain the banishment.
The comment that the reeve made when casting his deciding vote is interesting as well. By way of justifying his decision to vote the way he did, the reeve stated that because of recent staff departures and in the interest of maintaining the integrity of the office (????) he was voting to maintain my banishment. It seems that the original justification –that my repeated attendances and demands for information etc. , had changed. It now appears that council was concerned that a staff member or members would quit if I was allowed to return. Could it be that they were blackmailed into maintaining my banishment with the threat that staff would quit if I was allowed to return? Were some of these council members so afraid of this threat that they refused to consider the facts of the matter? Is that why they withheld the other side of the story from me? Wouldn’t it be reasonable for them to try to come up with some other more reasonable solution to this mysterious problem?
I have discussed this matter with a number of people. A lawyer friend told me that this action is not sustainable under law! Others are aghast at the heavy handed approach that the council(s) have taken.
The AMM Council Members Handbook, a guide for council members that is a condensed version of their responsibility under law, states:
“All citizens have a fundamental right to make a challenge to the Court of Queen’s Bench, if they believe that a municipality is acting outside or contrary to its legal authority…”
This publication advises that “Councils should make every effort to work with citizens to address their concerns, as ultimately, Councils are elected by, and accountable to, their citizens.”
I don’t want to take this matter to court but maybe I should. At least the allegations against me would be disclosed. But why is this necessary? Court action would end up unnecessarily costing the ratepayers a huge amount of money. Why doesn’t this council and its CAO try to do the right thing by being open and transparent with ratepayers rather than argumentative and uncooperative?
What we have here is a council that is going ‘all in’ with the ratepayers’ money. They are pitting the might of municipal government, funded by the taxpayer, against an individual who dares to ask questions and dares to stand up to them.