New bylaw prohibits recording of council meetings
By Chad Ingram
Published Feb. 2, 2018
The recording of council meetings in Algonquin Highlands is prohibited, except with permission of the mayor, according a new procedural bylaw.
Council passed that bylaw during a Feb. 1 meeting.
While it didn't come up in conversation around the council table, section 93 of the bylaw, entitled “recording equipment,” reads as follows:
“At meetings of council or its committees, the use of cameras, electric lighting, equipment, flash bulbs, recording equipment, television cameras and any other device of a mechanical, electronic or similar nature used for transcribing or recording proceedings by auditory or visual means by any person, including not limited to members, representatives of any news media whatsoever is prohibited, unless authorized in advance by the mayor or presiding officer as the case may be; save and except for; the recording secretary of the meeting or designated staff members.”
Section 94 of the policy goes on to read, “When exercising the discretion to authorize the use of equipment such as described above, regard shall be had as to whether the use will be a distraction to the meeting.”
“It’s a bit of a catch-all,” Mayor Carol Moffatt told the Times, adding the policy was not meant to target local media, for whom it is a common practice to make audio recordings of council meetings.
“I think everyone knows some of you guys do record,” Moffatt said. She said a mechanism would be instituted to give local media outlets standing permission to record meetings.
Moffatt said that members of the public who attend meetings might not always be aware that recordings are happening.
“It really, it’s just to advise other people who may be at the meeting that a recording’s going on,” she said.
Moffatt also noted that ultimately there is no way for councillors to know if members of the public are recording council proceedings through devices such as smart phones.
Bancroft, Wollaston and Highlands East councils employ similar policies and the executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Tom Henheffer told Times sister publication Bancroft This Week last summer there are ethical considerations to limiting the public’s right to record council proceedings.
“They are violating a core tenet of our democracy,” he said. “These are public meetings that are public for a reason and they need to be held accountable.”
Henheffer told the paper that restricting recordings was becoming more common among municipal councils.
“It’s absolutely horrendous and this is something that we’ve seen happening in small towns around Canada,” he said. “As a lot of newspapers and other media outlets close, there’s no one minding the farm at council so they feel like they can get away with anything. They pass laws like this specifically because they can and there’s not enough fighting back from citizens.”