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Security at the door and possible bag searches among new measures at public council meetings in Greater Sudbury

by Naomi Grant

Full Council Chambers at the June 18, 2013 budget input session.  Will new security measures impact public attendance?  (photo by Naomi Grant)
Full Council Chambers at the June 18, 2013 budget input session. Will new security measures impact public attendance? (photo by Naomi Grant)

“Am I allowed to be there?”  This is a common question Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury (CLS) is asked by residents who discover that a decision  that impacts them will be made at a City Council meeting.  CLS tells them that it is an open public meeting that everyone has the right to attend.   Information about meeting procedure is also shared to help these newly involved citizens feel comfortable going.  But now there is new information that must be shared.   Security will ‘greet’ you at the door of the meeting, and may ask to look through your bag. 

“There are many aspects about this change which are troubling. Firstly, who made this decision? It never came to council for a vote. Also, who will make the next security changes, which we are told are coming? While we should be trying to encourage citizen engagement, this type of scrutiny by security at the door is not welcoming and will further disenfranchise many Sudburians,” commented Lilly Noble, co-chair of CLS.

“We’re trying to create a barrier between citizens and staff,” Brendan Adair, manager of Corporate Security and Court Services, was quoted as saying at a media briefing, February 27.   New security measures for Council and Committee of Council meetings were announced, impacting the public and the media.  Meeting rooms will be locked until 15 minutes before the meeting, security will be posted at the door, bags may be searched, the public will not have access to the chamber floor, and media will be required to wear photo ID and will be restricted in where they can be during meetings. 

Reporters are required to provide personal information to apply for accreditation which will be approved or denied by the City and which may be withdrawn without warning if it is deemed regulations have not been complied with.  The accreditation guidelines  specifically reject personal websites and forums, and require employment by a media outlet for the purpose of covering Council, excluding citizen and grassroots journalists.  “The City has enacted security measures that put restrictions on the media at Tom Davies Square for no other reasons, apparently, than because it wants to,” commented a Sudbury Star Editorial.

A request for further information from Adair was referred to the city’s communication office.  An e-mail was received from this office indicating they “had a couple of questions about your request.”   Follow up phone messages over several days have gone unanswered.

People have yet to experience the new security measures.  Planning Committee and Council meetings for the week of March 3 were cancelled.  In a twitter exchange, the city indicated that the reason was that March break would result in two Council meetings in a row, and there would not be enough items for two consecutive agendas.   This is not unusual or unprecedented.  Prior to being taken down, the agenda for the March 3 Planning Committee appeared to have a normal number of items.  The next Planning Committee meeting is scheduled for March 24 and is expected to include two new items of high public interest, including a public hearing that is anticipated to be lengthy.

According to Councillor Joe Cimino, members of Council learned the details of the security measures just two days before the media briefing, and were caught off guard by the tone of the announcement, which was not consistent with prior briefing to Council.  “The word barrier to me was unacceptable,” he said, a sentiment echoed by several other members of Council, including the Mayor.  Cimino and others contacted the City’s CAO, Doug Nadorozny to express their concerns and ask that he clarify the intent of the measures to residents, which he did in a public letter March 4.

This letter also framed the larger context for these security measures.  “Changing our corporate security culture is not a new initiative; it is part of a long-term plan that has been on-going for several years,” he wrote.  Some measures are already in place, such as a requirement for photo ID for staff, put in place in January 2013.   Two separate reasons have been given for this larger security review: staff safety, and requirements of the provincial court.    “This security plan has been in the works for many years after a survey was taken by the entire CGS staff, e-mailed Sophie Tourigny, Office of the Mayor.  Examples of staff feeling unsafe when people have been found in unexpected areas have been reported.  In addition, in April 2013, Council Chambers became a permanent site of the Ontario Court of Justice Provincial Offences Court.  Cimino indicated they were put on notice at that time that security changes would be needed to better secure the building. 

Yet, the measures announced February 27 have little or nothing to do with staff safety or general building security.  “It is important to note that new security measures and standards of protocol have no impact on public access to Greater Sudbury council,” wrote Nadorozny.   Regardless of intent, the public does not appear to agree.  “We’ve received numerous letters – and many more comments..- from taxpayers who are concerned and angry, feeling that they and the media are not all that welcome at council meetings any longer; or that when they do attend, they will do so under a cloud of suspicion,” a Northern Life editorial commented.  “The ONLY purpose behind posting security at the door to ‘greet’ the public is to intimidate people.  As long as they stand at the door, there is an effect and it is intentional,”  tweeted @planthenorth. 

In early CBC coverage,Councillor Evelyn Dutrisac expressed worries that extra security may make city hall less welcoming to citizens.   “I don’t like the bag search.  It’s overkill,” e-mailed Councillor Terry Kett.   However, a number of Councillors expressed surprise at the idea that security at the door might be a deterrent to citizens.   The mayor and several councillors have indicated that a review of these measures may be needed.  However, with the exception of a requirement for media to sign in and out, none of these measures have been retracted so far.   The approach appears to be to watch carefully for unacceptable impacts, though how that will be done is unknown.   

Security policies will not be made available to the public, or undergo public review.  “Info about specific security policy/procedure will not be shared with the public but Council and Management have been involved,” stated the City in a twitter exchange.   The security measures were not the subject of a council vote, and councillors appeared to be genuinely taken by surprise by the details.  “(This) was certainly not directed by council,” Nadorozny is quoted as saying.    

There is also confusion about the reason behind the specific measures announced February 27.  Cimino attributed the review to the provincial court moving into Tom Davies.  The mayor’s office referenced the survey of city staff.  Councillor Terry Kett, on the other hand, expressed what has been the prevailing view in social media, and on-line commentary.  “I think it had its start with the demonstration by the anti poverty group – placards, etc,”  he e-mailed, referring to S-CAP’s January action.   However, he has also made it clear that protests such as this should be allowed.   He and other members of Council have been quick to point out they have never felt threatened at public meetings.   The Sudbury Star editorial’s statement that “..a poverty group protests peacefully, and the media are corralled,”  summarizes the general impression that these measures were an overreaction to S-CAP’s action.  The city has denied that the tighter security is in response to a particular event.  “I don’t want to be reactive to an incident, so I’m trying to implement changes that will avoid any incidents,”  Adair is quoted as saying.    Further, undisclosed, security measures are forthcoming.

In his blog, Scott Neigh makes the case that these measures are part of a larger repressive shift in the way social needs and dissent are responded to, that goes far beyond Sudbury.  “These changes are the City of Greater Sudbury, in a small way, preparing itself to be better able to respond to articulations of human need -- which it knows will come, one way or the other -- with repression and force. And that isn't acceptable, however you dress it up,” he concludes.

The mayor and numerous councillors have indicated these measures may need to be revisited.  “I don’t think there is any member of Council that wants the public deterred from coming to city hall,” declared Cimino, “In the end, if this is going to restrict the press and public, it will have to be reexamined.”  “I don’t think that part’s going to stick, because there was a lot of kickback from council, too,” Councillor Dave Kilgour is quoted as saying.  Several candidates for the upcoming municipal election have also expressed that security measures creating a barrier for citizens are unacceptable. 

For now, however, the measures remain in place, and no clear indication has been given about next steps, or how an unacceptable impact would be determined.  The number of people who don’t show up as a result?  That’s hard to measure.   A shift in attitude between citizens and their government and among citizens at a public council meeting, when you and everyone else attending are assessed as a potential threat?  Also very difficult to quantify.  “It is a bad thing to view the people as dangerous, or potentially the enemy.  It is a bad thing to think that dissent can be silenced by just making bigger walls, wrote Christy Knockelby in her blog

Public involvement in civic issues, including attendance at Council meetings, has been observed to increase over the past 5 - 10 years, which is seen by many as a positive change.   A city led review of how citizens engage with the city is anticipated this spring.  These changes in security at public council meetings are sure to come up at that time.  In the meantime, it remains to be seen what the impact will be, and whether Council will act to reverse any of these measures.

 

Naomi Grant chairs Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury

If you would like to speak to your Councillor about these security measures, you can find their contact information here 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Naomi Grant (Naomi Grant)
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