Ombudsman of Ontario Paul Dubé says municipalities cannot force residents to identify themselves as a condition to observe Municipal Act public meetings.

Dubé writes the Township of Alberton violated open meeting laws by removing observers from Zoom video meetings who did not identify themselves.

The municipality said it requires people to be identified to prevent “Zoombombing” of meetings.

Zoom bombing describes people intentionally joining and disrupting video meetings, often by posting hate speech, nudity, and pornography.

“Municipalities have an obligation to ensure that the public can freely access and observe open meetings,” Dubé writes in a report issued July 12. “Municipalities must be careful about placing conditions on the public’s ability to do so.”

“I acknowledge that the Township was concerned about ‘Zoom bombings’ at its council meetings. However, requiring the public identification of all attendees at open council meetings is an overly intrusive measure to achieve this objective.”

The Ombudsman notes nearly all public bodies use livestreaming or webinars for the public to observe electronic meetings.

[The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board uses Microsoft Teams. The public must enter a username to observe meetings. People have used the feature to express their viewpoints on matters before the Board. I wrote about the potential Charter implications of this in March 2022]

Dubé’s report is instructive for in-person meetings.

“My Office has found that the Act’s open meeting requirements do not preclude council from taking appropriate measures to preserve security and maintain order at council meetings”

The Ombudsman noted the 2019 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that security screening may be conducted by government bodies, emphasizing the Court wrote requiring individuals to identify themselves may be considered too intrusive a restriction upon attending public meetings.

The City of Hamilton is considering new security measures for City Hall following a recent isolated incidence of violence in May.

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Published: July 16, 2023
Last edited: July 16, 2023
Author: Joey Coleman
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