Hamilton City Hall Credit: Joey Coleman

Hamilton’s permanent residents – those new Canadians who are on the pathway to citizenship – may soon be able to join the City’s advisory committees and local boards.

2019 changes to the Ontario Libraries Act require the City of Hamilton to allow permanent residents to apply to join the Hamilton Public Library Board.

Hamilton’s Procedural Bylaw [Section 1.1 and Appendix H(c)] states the citizenship requirement applies to all advisory committees and local boards.

Municipal bylaws cannot contravene provincial legislation.

Therefore, Hamilton City Council must either add an explicit exception for the Library Board or revoke the citizenship requirement.

TPR asked Mayor Andrea Horwath “what are your thoughts on permanent residents being on committees?”

“I think that opening up everything that we do at City Hall to all of the voices of Hamilton is the right way to go. And so if there are procedural pieces that need to be amended to create that opportunity for open dialogue with all residents of Hamilton, I would be very interested in making that happen,” Mayor Horwath stated.

“We’re all part of Hamilton, we all live here, we all have a stake in our community … let’s give everybody the opportunity to be part of the process.”

During her election campaign, Mayor Horwath promised to “strike a diverse Public Advisory Committee in the first 90 days, tasked with recommending improvements to access, transparency and accountability at City Hall.”

She says the citizenship requirement will be part of the review.

In 2019, the Ontario Progressive Conservative government amended the Public Libraries Act to allow permanent residents to sit on Library Boards. [Schedule 12 of the Better for People, Smarter for Business Act, 2019.]

The change was enacted in December 2019.

Before this, the Libraries Act was unique in having a citizenship requirement.

No other Act or Regulation governing the City of Hamilton’s local boards imposes a citizenship requirement. It is entirely a creation of Hamilton City Council.

As written, Hamilton’s Procedural Bylaw prohibits permanent residents from joining all advisory committees, including the Immigrant and Refugee Advisory Committee.

The Police Services Act states Council must appoint one person “who is neither a member of the council nor an employee of the municipality.” It is silent on citizenship.

It is not known why the City Clerk did not bring the 2019 Libraries Act changes to Council’s attention. The City Clerk is responsible for reading legislative notices and ensuring their implementation.

Hamilton’s City Hall was unaware of the issue before TPR brought attention to the issue.

Unclear If Council’s Citizen Requirement is Discriminatory

Ontario’s Human Rights Code Section 16 states:

“16 (1) A right under Part I to non-discrimination because of citizenship is not infringed where Canadian citizenship is a requirement, qualification or consideration imposed or authorized by law.”

“A right under Part I to non-discrimination because of citizenship is not infringed where Canadian citizenship or lawful admission to Canada for permanent residence is a requirement, qualification or consideration adopted for the purpose of fostering and developing participation in cultural, educational, trade union or athletic activities by Canadian citizens or persons lawfully admitted to Canada for permanent residence.” [Emphasis added]

Before 2019, the Public Libraries Act required members to be Canadian citizens.

The Municipal Act imposes a citizenship requirement to vote, but Hamilton’s procedural bylaw does cite the Act’s “eligible electors” language as the basis of the criteria.

Absent this, and absent reasoning, the present Procedural Bylaw is vulnerable to a human rights challenge.

More so now that the Legislative Assembly has explicitly included permanent residents in Library Board governance.

Independent of City Hall, The Library Board has already amended their internal bylaws to clarify permanent residents can be members of the Board.

Municipalities Can Open Advisory and Local Boards to All Residents

Except for the Libraries Act, there are no obvious legislative roadblocks to Hamilton City Council opening its advisory committees and local boards to any resident, regardless of status.

The City of Hamilton seeks to encourage international students to remain after graduation. Providing them with opportunities to be more engaged at City Hall can further that goal.

Mayor Horwath’s Public Advisory Committee motion is forthcoming.

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Last edited: November 19, 2022
Author: Joey Coleman
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