Protesters chanting in the Hamilton City Council Chamber during a February 4, 2023 disruption of the budget delegations meeting. Credit: Joey Coleman

Vitriol, violence, and threats of violence are becoming all too frequent at public meetings.

I’ve been watching as a few councils have tightened their security measures, ended in-person public attendance, and even went online only for council members.

Oakville’s council switched to an online-only format for the month of March following disruptions by individuals protesting Israel’s military offensive in Gaza. In April, the Council resumed in-person meetings, with enhanced security measures. Oakville will close public in-person attendance if deemed necessary.

Kingston Council was disrupted in February, with the meeting moved to an online-only format, and in-person delegates sent home with instructions to log in by video.

Sarnia is developing policies following the disruption of its meetings by a councillor who wants to pass resolutions against the carbon tax. (The councillor apologized.)

Surrey B.C. no longer allows in-person public attendance at its meetings, following four months of disruptions by protesters demanding the council pass resolutions regarding Gaza.

Police were called to a recent Pickering council meeting after a supporter a controversial councillor refused to leave the podium. Pickering is now prohibiting out-of-town delegates.

Medicine Hat, Alberta, Council has been embroiled in a series of controversies, with tensions on council and in the community. Councillors and the mayor posted a YouTube video last week asking for calm and civility. Their City Hall will have “security improvements” implemented on June 3.

[Medicine Hat’s mayor had her powers removed following an investigation that found she violated their code of conduct in how she treated staff. As these things go, Clark has supporters who showed up at the next council meeting to protest.]

Hamilton City Council was disrupted in February 2023 when the Hamilton Encampment Support Network took over the council chamber, refusing to allow public budget delegations to continue until city council voted down the police budget.

Following this, Hamilton’s public school board began restricting access to its meetings and, knowingly violating the Charter, banned the public from bringing expressive signs into public meetings. The school board also requires members of the public to prove their identity to observe meetings.

Chatham-Kent now posts security guards at its doors. All visitors are given passes.

Additional Notes

i) When I visited Halifax City Hall in June 2024, they asked me to sign a log book and provide valid government identification to enter the building. As a Southam Fellow, I’m recognized as a journalist across Canada and was granted entry as media. While visits by members of the public were logged in a book, the municipality does not log the comings and goings of journalists.)

ii) The 2013 Casino Issue Town Hall was a great example of passionate discourses on a divisive issue. The Yes Side was well-represented and loud, and the No Side was also well-represented and loud. People expressed strong views; there was chanting and a few interruptions, but never any safety concerns. Nobody tried to shut down the meeting, there were no threats, and no security was hired for the event. The video of the event is a time capsule; you’ll spot many familiar faces who remain active today and, sadly, a few who are no longer with us.

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Published: May 25, 2024
Last updated: May 25, 2024
Author: Joey Coleman
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