I’ve been asked by a couple of people who are genuinely curious about recent Victoria City Council closed (“in camera”) meetings. So here’s a quick blurb.
Provincial legislation provides for certain municipal council discussions to be conducted in closed meetings. Section 90 of the Community Charter says a council meeting may be closed to the public “if the subject matter being considered relates to or is one or more of the following” and then lists all sorts of items – personal information about employees, labour relations, land transactions, legal advice, etc etc – there are 15 listed items (s. 90(1) is pasted in below).
In some cases, the legislation actually requires that discussions be in closed meetings (s. 90(2), also is pasted in below). And s.90(2)(d) adds matters that must be closed “under another enactment.”
So there are lots of reasons why a Council discussion will go into a closed meeting.
Every time the meeting goes into closed, the Clerk reads out the relevant section of the legislation, and those are also mentioned in agendas and minutes.
The BC Government website also has an explainer page on closed meetings, minutes, confidentiality rules, etc: Local government closed meetings – Province of British Columbia.
Those who watch Victoria City Council meetings will know that Council has always gone into closed meetings. This is normal for municipal councils and other organizations across BC, Canada, and the world.
And those watching recently will have noticed that we have voted (unanimously) to go into closed meetings to receive legal advice. One person asked me what we talked about in closed in relation to the Middle Housing Initiative (MMHI).
I replied that we received legal advice in relation to the MMHI, as well as several other matters. I won’t divulge any of that advice because that would contravene my duty as a Council member (and be illegal under s.117 of the Charter). Also, there is also a rule that once you disclose any piece of legal advice, you may waive the solicitor-client privilege over all of it. This is why lawyers generally advise clients not to divulge any legal advice.
But I will say that yes we did receive legal advice, had lots of communications necessary for that purpose, and our only decision was about the process. We did not make any decisions about the substance of the MMHI. Discussions about the pros and cons of MMHI, and decisions about the substance of MMHI – all of them – will happen out in the open, in a future public meeting.
Excerpts of the Community Charter, section 90:
90 (1)A part of a council meeting may be closed to the public if the subject matter being considered relates to or is one or more of the following:
(a) personal information about an identifiable individual who holds or is being considered for a position as an officer, employee or agent of the municipality or another position appointed by the municipality;
(b) personal information about an identifiable individual who is being considered for a municipal award or honour, or who has offered to provide a gift to the municipality on condition of anonymity;
(c) labour relations or other employee relations;
(d) the security of the property of the municipality;
(e) the acquisition, disposition or expropriation of land or improvements, if the council considers that disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality;
(f) law enforcement, if the council considers that disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the conduct of an investigation under or enforcement of an enactment;
(g) litigation or potential litigation affecting the municipality;
(h) an administrative tribunal hearing or potential administrative tribunal hearing affecting the municipality, other than a hearing to be conducted by the council or a delegate of council;
(i) the receipt of advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose;
(j) information that is prohibited, or information that if it were presented in a document would be prohibited, from disclosure under section 21 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act;
(k) negotiations and related discussions respecting the proposed provision of a municipal service that are at their preliminary stages and that, in the view of the council, could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality if they were held in public;
(l) discussions with municipal officers and employees respecting municipal objectives, measures and progress reports for the purposes of preparing an annual report under section 98 [annual municipal report];
(m) a matter that, under another enactment, is such that the public may be excluded from the meeting;
(n) the consideration of whether a council meeting should be closed under a provision of this subsection or subsection (2);
(o) the consideration of whether the authority under section 91 [other persons attending closed meetings] should be exercised in relation to a council meeting.
90 (2) A part of a council meeting must be closed to the public if the subject matter being considered relates to one or more of the following:
(a) a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, if the council is designated as head of the local public body for the purposes of that Act in relation to the matter;
(b) the consideration of information received and held in confidence relating to negotiations between the municipality and a provincial government or the federal government or both, or between a provincial government or the federal government or both and a third party;
(c) a matter that is being investigated under the Ombudsperson Act of which the municipality has been notified under section 14 [Ombudsperson to notify authority] of that Act;
(d) a matter that, under another enactment, is such that the public must be excluded from the meeting. …”