250 News - Your News, Your Views, Now

October 27, 2017 10:01 pm

Ombudsperson Floats Idea to Release Minutes of In Camera Meetings

Tuesday, July 12, 2016 @ 5:59 AM

Prince George, B.C.- “We view ourselves as having an important role in the transparency of all public office” says BC Ombudsperson Jay Chalke.

In a   presentation to Prince George City Council, Chalke  suggested Council  look back at previous closed meetings,  and  see if the minutes from  such sessions can  be released once the  issue  discussed in camera has been  dealt with. “I think that really does go a  long way to  showing that, as a Council, you are committed to transparency.”

Chalke also gave  Mayor and Council   a quick class in  what his office is all about “Our  roles is to identify and uphold  administrative fairness” said Chalke.”

With over 2800 public bodies in BC under their jurisdiction, the Office of the Ombudsperson  investigated  nearly 7900  complaints  in 2015/16.

More than half  dealt with  Provincial Government Ministries.

At the  local government level,  the majority of the complaints investigated across the province, had to deal with adequacy of information (41%)   followed by  complaints about bylaw enforcement (24%).

“We are impartial investigators” says Chalke,  who made it clear his office’s role is  not to support  a complainant, rather to  find a way to  resolve the issue.   “We don’t have the authority to  order a public body to do  things”  he says that is why they try to  reach  a resolution that will  satisfy both parties.

Conflict  resolution in the past has included such things:

  •  reimbursing fines or penalties,
  • reconsidering an enforcement decision,
  • providing an apology,
  • providing written or verbal reasons for a decision,
  • amending a bylaw,   or changing or developing a policy.

Councillor Garth Frizzell  wanted to know what kind of costs are involved in getting information to the  public but  Chalke says  the costs of providing the information  in the first place  may be cheaper “It’s going to be released anyway because  someone is going to request it.”

“I think it is absolutely true that lack of transparency leads to suspicions” says Chalke.



I am personally offended by the concept of “in-camera”.
It is a misleading term, and it gives a public body the option for what is known as “back room deals”

Indeed, there are instances where a discussion of private matters is needed, but I believe in-camera is over used.

According to parliamentary procedure, there is a an option to go to a “committee of the whole” for a more informal discussion.

If a matter cannot be discussed by committee of the whole, perhaps there are other issues to resolve before a motion is made.

    Council does have committee of the whole sessions. I do not think they are televised nor that many reporters are there.

    What should be happening at the least is that the result of the in-camera discussions are summarized and brought out into open Council meetings.

    The guidelines under the charter are set very broadly. Some are obvious, such as personnel issues, others are not.

    For instance, the presentations by the PAC group to Council which dealt with possible building sites were all in camera under the guise of fear of speculation. In Kamloops the Council went to the people to find out where a PAC should be built.

    Totally different mindset.

BC Ombudsperson Jay Chalke is appointed to this position by the government of the day.
If he has to make a choice between the people or the government, who do you think he is going to favor?

    So do you think that judges who are paid by the government are in the same position of having to favour the government when there is a case brought against the crown?

    The Ombudsman’s office is quite secure against such favouritism.

    Tell us of a case where the office was not fair.

    The Ombudsman was certainly fair in the case of Councillor Frizzell’s loaded question of how much the office costs to operate to get info to the public.

    Chalke was on the ball. Frizzell has the wrong mindset, as do many of the Councillors, I suspect.

    Time to make sure Council is measured on the level of the transparency they have in their deliberations.

Comments for this article are closed.