By: Roger Belgrave, Mississauga News, Brampton, Ontario 18-August-2016 – Politicians violated Municipal Act rules when they closed the doors to the public last January to discuss the pros and cons of water fluoridation.
That’s the conclusion of an investigation held into the special meeting.
However, there is no penalty for the legislative breach in transparency.
Brampton resident Christine Massey, who has been among those protesting water fluoridation in Peel, wanted to know why the public was barred from the Jan. 21 meeting.
As is the public’s right, she requested a Closed Session Investigation under the Municipal Act.
Peel Region appointed Local Authority Services to conduct the investigation.
Local Authority Services contracted Amberley Gavel Ltd., a London Ontario-based company formed in 2007 to assist municipalities with closed meeting investigations, to look into the matter.
Last month, Amberley Gavel investigator Nigel Bellchamber ruled Peel regional council “breached the open meetings requirement of the Municipal Act” when the meeting was moved in-camera.
Under the Act, educational or training sessions may be closed to the public as long as council members do not discuss or deal with any matter “in a way that materially advances the business or decision-making” of council.
Bellchamber said presentations, questions and answers at the meeting “strayed away” from being an education session and into dealing with material that could be the subject of future municipal decisions.
Despite the ruling, the public still can’t get access to minutes of the meeting and there was no penalty recommended for breaching the act.
“The finding does not make the meeting public,” said regional clerk Kathryn Lockyer, who added the ruling would be used to help determine how closed sessions would be conducted in the future.
The meeting last January was organized to ostensibly “educate” regional councillors about the benefits and concerns around water fluoridation.
The education session was well publicized in advance – even providing the community with an agenda detailing the time, location and list of delegates scheduled to appear.
However, council members voted to conduct the proceedings behind closed doors.
Experts on both sides of an ongoing debate on the health benefits and risks linked to municipal water fluoridation were brought in to speak to council members.
A week after that education session, councillors convened for their regular meeting and agreed to form an ad hoc committee to take a deeper look at the longstanding practice of adding fluoride to Peel’s drinking water and establish a regional position on the issue.
The public’s exclusion from the session angered some residents.
Those in the community advocating for an end to water fluoridation were particularly upset.
Many in the anti-fluoride lobby believe municipal staff involved in the current review process is pro-fluoride and trying to muffle contrary comments and research.
The Municipal Act requires the report be made public, so it has been posted on the region’s website. The investigator also recommended it be included in an upcoming council meeting agenda.