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Governance &
Structure Division
 

Open Meetings

 

Public accessibility to the decision-making process of elected officials is an important principle in local government. Division 3, Part 4 of the Community Charter augments this principle, but also recognizes the need for council to discuss certain matters in a closed meeting.
 

The open meetings provisions apply to the City of Vancouver, regional districts, the Islands Trust and greater boards.
 

What is required

All meetings of council and its committees, commissions and other subsidiary bodies must be open to the public. However, under certain circumstances section 90 (meetings that may or must be closed to the public) provides that council may close a meeting or part of a meeting by passing a resolution that sets out the basis for closing the meeting to discuss any of the following:
  • personal information about individuals appointed to or being considered for appointment as an officer, employee or agent of the municipality;
  • personal information about individuals being considered for a municipal award or who have offered a gift to the municipality on condition of anonymity;
  • labour/employee relations;
  • security of property of the municipality;
  • acquisition, disposition or expropriation of land or improvements if municipal interests could be harmed by disclosure;
  • law enforcement if disclosure could harm an investigation or enforcement of an enactment;
  • litigation or potential litigation impacting the municipality;
  • a hearing or potential hearing by an outside administrative tribunal (e.g., Gaming Commission, Motor Carrier Commission, Utilities Commission) affecting the municipality;
  • the receipt of legal advice;
  • 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;
  • municipal service negotiations and related discussions that are at their preliminary stages and that could harm the interests of the municipality if held in public;
  • objectives, measures and progress reports with municipal officers and employees for the purposes of preparing the municipality's annual report;
  • a matter that under another enactment is such that the public can be excluded;
  • whether or not the meeting should be closed; and
  • whether or not council wishes to use the authority under section 91 to exclude or allow municipal staff or other persons to attend a closed meeting.

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Council must close a meeting by passing a resolution that sets out the basis for closing the meeting to discuss any of the following:

  • confidential information that relates to negotiations between the municipality and the federal/provincial government, or between the federal/provincial government and a third party (i.e. negotiations with a First Nation under the Treaty Process);
  • FOIPP request directed at the municipality;
  • a matter related to the municipality that is being investigated by the Ombudsman; and
  • a matter that, under a separate enactment, must be discussed in a closed meeting.

Under section 91 [other persons attending closed meetings], the attendance or exclusion of non-council members at a closed meeting is generally a matter for council to decide. Council may choose to include individuals who are considered necessary to advise council on the matters being discussed, or council may choose to exclude municipal officers from a closed meeting. This would likely only occur where council is discussing specific staffing issues.
 

All council votes on the reading or adoption of a bylaw must be made in an open meeting, even if the issues that gave rise to the bylaw were discussed in a closed meeting.
 

Section 117 (duty to respect confidentiality) requires a council member or former council member, unless specifically authorized by council, to keep in confidence:

  • any record held in confidence by the municipality until the municipality authorizes its release; and
  • information considered in a lawfully closed council meeting or council committee meeting, until council discusses the information at an open meeting.

This means that confidentiality must be maintained until the municipality makes the information public.
 

If the municipality suffers loss or damage because a person contravenes the requirement to respect confidentiality and the contravention was not inadvertent, the municipality may seek damages through the courts. The duty to respect the confidentiality provision applies only to municipalities and regional districts.
 

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What to consider

Council Resolution
The municipal council resolution required to close a meeting or part, must be passed in the open part of a meeting and the resolution must state:

  • the fact that the meeting or part of the meeting is to be closed; and
  • the basis under Section 90 for which the meeting or part is to be closed.
At a minimum, the resolution should reference the specific wording in Subsections 1 and 2 of Section 90 in order to explain why the meeting or part is being closed.
 

What is a Council Meeting?
The general rule that all meetings of council be open to the public is intended to be applied broadly, in keeping with the principle of openness and court decisions on the types of gatherings that are deemed to constitute a meeting. Based on some court interpretations, a council meeting is any gathering:

  • to which all members of council have been invited; and
  • that is a material part of council's decision-making process.

Council gatherings where all council members could be seen to be making decisions, or moving towards making decisions, would meet this two-part definition. All such gatherings should be held in accordance with the Community Charter's open meeting provisions.
 

Briefings by Staff
Staff briefings to further council’s understanding of an issue that do not constitute a material part of council's decision making process would not typically be considered to be a meeting of council.
 

Minutes
The Community Charter requires that a municipality’s procedure bylaw provide for the taking of minutes of council and committee meetings, including requiring certification of those minutes. Minutes of closed meetings must record the names of all persons in attendance. All minutes must be available to the public in accordance with section 97 (other records to which public access must be granted), except for those taken at a meeting or part of a meeting that is closed to the public. The corporate officer is assigned responsibility for ensuring that accurate minutes of the meetings of council and council committees are prepared and that the minutes are maintained and kept safe.
 

Attendance at Closed Meetings
If council excludes officers from closed meetings, the minutes of the meeting must be taken by someone in attendance at the meeting. However, the corporate officer is still responsible to ensure that these minutes are accurate. Assigning minute-taking responsibility to an elected official may impact the ability of the corporate officer to fulfill this responsibility. For this reason, councils may want to limit the circumstances in which the corporate officer or another staff person versed in taking minutes is excluded from closed meetings.
 

Please direct questions or comments to Advisory Services Branch.
 

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