Hamilton City Hall: Public Meeting Videos Do Not Have to Be Made Public

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Hamilton City Hall

Hamilton City Hall is continuing to censor advisory committees for speaking critically of Council and City Hall cover-ups.

In early September, Hamilton City Clerk Andrea Holland removed all public meeting videos from the City’s advisory committees from YouTube.

Holland refused to provide any explanation for the removal, nor could see cite any records retention policy which authorized the removal. The Municipal Freedom of Information Act requires the City of Hamilton to only dispose of records in accordance with the City’s record retention policy.

This followed Council’s use of the “Integrity Commissioner” against the Chair of the LGBTQ Advisor committee for criticizing City Hall and Council cover-ups. Holland is also censuring minutes of advisory committees to prevent embarrassment to Council and senior managers at City Hall.

The removal followed a September 1, 2020 meeting of the Housing and Homelessness Advisory Committee during which members of the committee expressed differing opinions regarding the City’s handling of homelessness encampments.

The Public Record requested the meeting video from the Office of City Manager Janette Smith. The City of Hamilton’s records policy states that videos on the City’s YouTube page are in the custody of the City Manager’s Office.

Smith’s office declined to provide the video, which is a public record.

The Public Record filed a Freedom of Information request for the video. The City has denied the request, with Deputy City Clerk Janet Pilon writing the City destroyed all video records of these meetings.

Pilon’s denial of the FOI request states of YouTube “it’s not our system” as part of the reasons.

Pilon states the Municipal Act only requires the City make public meetings available for viewing online during COVID, and the Province has not stated how long the videos need to be made available. As per the standard practice of Hamilton City

The City is only streaming the meetings because of COVID and would not be if the meetings were in person.

The decision is fully supported by City Manager Janette Smith, and the City’s Manager of Records and Freedom of Information Lisa Barroso.

In 2019, Hamilton’s City Clerks ignored freedom of information tribunal requirements.

In MO-3764-I, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario wrote “the City did not respond” to the Commission when required to respond to the Tribunal, this after already being late in responding to reply representations. (Para 6)

In MO-3752-I, similarly, the City Clerk did not respond to the Tribunal after denying a request. The IPC adjudicator stated “The city did not submit representations, despite receiving a number of extensions and follow-up from this office” (Para 6). Even after this, as required, the IPC requested Hamilton’s Manager of Records respond and make submissions to the Tribunal. “I decided to seek representations from the city in response to the Notice of Inquiry and the appellant’s representations, which were shared with the city in accordance with Practice Direction Number 7 of the IPC’s Code of Procedure. The city did not submit representations” (Para 7).

In MO-3771, in response to a legitimate freedom of information request, the City Clerk declared a request to be “frivolous or vexatious” and refused to process the request. In this case, during an attempt to mediate the issue, IPC took the step of calling the City Clerk’s Office. The City Clerk did not respond. “The city did not respond to the letter or to the mediator’s voice message to the city regarding the appellant’s position as set out in his letter” (Para 5). The IPC decision in this case references numerous times the refusal of the City of Hamilton to provide any reasons for their actions. “In this appeal, the city provided no representations in support of its position thereby providing me with no assistance in making my determination”, the adjudicator wrote.

“I feel it necessary to point out that the city not only failed to establish that the appellant’s request was frivolous or vexatious but also did not participate in the inquiry of the appeal. I remind the city of its obligations as an institution under the Act and the serious implications to a requester of an institution’s frivolous or vexatious claim”, the adjudicator added to emphasis the point.

City Clerk Andrea Holland stated in late 2019 that she fully supports her staff actions in these matters, including their non-responses to the IPC.

The Public Record is exploring what steps can be taken regarding the destruction of public meeting videos by Holland. There are no similar instances in case law, this appears to be the first time a municipal City Clerk has destroyed this type of public record.

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First published: October 14, 2020
Last edited: October 14, 2020
Author: Joey Coleman

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