Two Hamilton Police Cruiser cars on a street.
Two Hamilton Police cruisers in August 2017 Credit: Joey Coleman / The Public Record

The provincial appointees on Hamilton’s Police Services Board are undermining municipal democracy.

They requested the Ontario Civilian Police Commission to investigate Ward 2 Councillor Cameron Kroetsch for motions he made at the city council regarding police budgeting and his comments regarding how the Police Services Board reviews the annual police budget before sending it to Council for approval.

The OCPC has launched an investigation, and Kroetsch has stepped off the Police Board as required during the investigation.

Kroetsch’s statements and actions as elected city councillor are undoubtedly intimately tied to municipal democracy.

For this reason, the use of statutory processes against Kroetsch threatens the independence of City Council and its ability to govern.

Municipal Council and Qualified Privilege

Municipalities are creatures of the province, with no inherent protections or privileges. They merely have the powers given to them by statute and regulation.

Elected councils govern municipalities.

These councils have fought for recognition as true governing bodies and the ability to govern their meetings and affairs independently from outside interference – especially interference from unelected and unaccountable entities.

Powers Granted to Councillors

The Municipal Act grants councils powers to govern, including oversight and financial management of police boards.

The Police Services Act explicitly states municipal councils “shall establish an overall budget” for policing.

Councillors speaking, moving, and passing resolutions regarding policing budgeting is necessary to fulfil their legislated mandates.

(If a Police Board deems the overall budget inadequate to provide effective policing, the Board can appeal to OCPC to decide what funding the municipality must provide.)

Council Speech Necessary for Preservation of Municipal Democracy

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that municipal councillors must be able to speak on matters of public interest to ensure the “preservation of municipal democracy.”

Prud’homme v. Prud’homme (2002 SCC 85) is most informative.

In this case, Councillor Fernand Prud’homme of Repentigny, Quebec, publicly criticized his fellow councillors for “the fact that no public debate had been held” on a matter of public interest.

Other councillors, “offended by the statement, which was, in their opinion, full of malicious insinuations about them that made them out to be bad citizens, brought an action against the respondent in damages for interfering with their reputation, honour and dignity.”

In dismissing the defamation case, the unanimous Supreme Court noted an “intimate connection” between municipal councillors’ duty to represent their constituents and their right to speak on matters of public interest, especially during council meetings.

The elected councillor’s freedom of expression is necessary for “the preservation of municipal democracy.”

The Supreme Court approvingly quoted Professor Pierre Trudel, translated:

“Municipal democracy is based on confrontation between views and on open, and sometimes vigorous and passionate, debate. Discussion about controversial subjects can occur only in an atmosphere of liberty. If the rules governing the conduct of such debates are applied in such a way as to cause the people who participate in them to fear that they will be hauled before the courts for the slightest breach, the probability that they will choose to withdraw from public life will increase.”

It also approvingly quoted from Lord Diplock in Horricks v. Lowe, at p. 152 A.C.:

“My Lords, what is said by members of a local council at meetings of the council or of any of its committees is spoken on a privileged occasion. The reasons for the privilege is that those who represent the local government electors should be able to speak freely and frankly, boldly and bluntly, on any matter which they believe affects the interests or welfare of the inhabitants. They may be swayed by strong political prejudice, they may be obstinate and pig-headed, stupid and obtuse; but they were chosen by the electors to speak their minds on matters of local concern and so long as they do so honestly they run no risk of liability for defamation of those who are the subjects of their criticism.”

Will Hamilton Council Stand On Principle, or Keep Politicking?

If the Hamilton Police Services Board succeeds, the independence of Hamilton City Council is permanently undermined.

From that point forward, the three people that City Council appoints to the Police Board – plus the Mayor who is legislatively appointed to the Board – will cease to be Council representatives and be forever bound to represent the Police Board to Council.

It is clear, to this observer, that a majority of the sixteen members of City Council harbour negative opinions of Kroetsch. Kroetsch does not try to make friends and does antagonize his political opponents on Council.

This is irrelevant because, on principle alone, City Council, led by the Mayor, should be standing up for their hard-fought privilege to govern and manage their affairs without undue interference.

Instead, it appears this Council will allow the weaponization of accountability processes, a weaponization that will be turned against all of them – at great expense to Hamilton taxpayers who are footing the financial bills for lawyers and integrity commissioners.

Ultimately, the City Council will regret allowing all of this to happen. It distracts them from the work they have been elected to achieve and undermines their credibility.

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Published: March 11, 2024
Last edited: March 11, 2024
Author: Joey Coleman
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1 Comment

  1. This is correct & well written. I can’t believe the PSB can’t see this or if they are so bold as to go forth with this despite the optics. Not a Kroetsch fan but I am a democracy fan.

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