A former councillor in Irricana is calling out recent bylaw revisions by Town council that prevent meetings from being recorded by gallery members without prior permission by the meeting chair and chief administrative officer.
On Dec. 6, Irricana Town council unanimously approved two revisions to their meeting procedural bylaw that included a prohibition on personal audio and video recordings by members of the public.
The revisions allow the chair of the meeting (typically the mayor or deputy mayor) to expel any person who they deem to be interrupting the meeting, causing a nuisance, distraction, or disruption, or addressing councillors without permission.
The revisions also state that anyone who refuses to vacate the premises after being expelled will be fined on a sliding scale based on their number of offences, starting at $250 and rising to $1,000 after their third offence.
Ton van Arendonk, a former Irricana councillor who resigned from the role last summer over adversarial relationships with his fellow council colleagues and staff, said he feels the revisions stifle freedom of press and are akin to a charter of rights violation. He argued the fines included in the revisions are governmental over-reach and were not formed from a legal basis.
“If the mayor is convinced you’re intervening or interrupting the meeting, he can impose on you a penalty of $250 to $1,000,” he said. “There’s no warning option, there’s no dispute option – nothing is written in the bylaw. Basically, what they’re trying to do is [say] ‘Keep your mouth shut, otherwise we’ll do something.’ I don’t think this is proper government.”
Reached to comment on the updated bylaw, Mayor Jim Bryson said the revisions stemmed from complaints residents of Irricana have submitted to the Town about meeting disruptions.
“We’ve received complaints from public about these recordings, they’ve been regularly disruptive, and administration has expressed concern about the legal position the Town could find itself in given that private conversations amongst gallery members are also being recorded,” he stated in an email.
“In the end, it just made sense to follow other communities, like Rocky View County for instance, and just prohibit the recordings so that we can focus on the Town’s business. We do livestream council meetings for those who can’t attend, with the equipment set up to respect the privacy of others and just capture the meeting itself.”
But van Arendonk’s wife Lieke suggested the problem with the Town’s current recording set-up for meetings is that the broadcasts aren’t posted online afterwards, which restricts residents from tuning in if they are not able to do so at 7 p.m.
“A lot of families here in town have an issue because that’s the bedtime for a lot of kids,” she said. “They can’t listen in at that moment. The Town is putting it out, the meeting, but as soon as the meeting is done, it’s gone. People can’t go later on and listen in.
“If no one can record it any more, all those families are left out.”
The Rocky View Weekly reached out to Municipal Affairs for comment on the situation in Irricana. While the ministry was not able to meet the Weekly’s print deadline with a comment or interview, staff did reply with the following brief statement that suggested the Town of Irricana was in the right, legally, to pass their bylaw revisions:
“Under the Municipal Government Act, a council is able to create bylaws that set out the procedures that the council must follow,” it stated. “This includes setting a bylaw or rules around limiting or prohibiting the use of recording devices by the public when they’re in council chambers.
“The MGA also says that everyone has a right to attend council meetings (unless a person is expelled for improper conduct).”
This story will be updated online at RockyviewToday.com once a more comprehensive statement has been provided by Municipal Affairs.