Township of Whitewater Region

Closed Session Meetings in the Township of Whitewater Region

Public demand for greater openness and access has become a major issue at all levels of government. In this context, Ontario statutes include provisions related to the transparency and accountability of local government, including the conduct of meetings and the public’s right to attend them.

Meetings held in public and Public Meetings – what’s the difference?

Meetings Held in Public: The Ontario Municipal Act, section 239 (1) states that “Municipal Council meetings shall be open to the public.” The public’s role is to observe the meeting, not to participate in the meeting unless they are an Official Delegation on the agenda, arranged in advance through the Clerk’s Office.

Public Meetings: Many municipal processes such as Re-zoning Applications and Official Plan Amendments require a Public Meeting to be held to give the community an opportunity to voice their opinions to Council before any related legislation is passed.

Municipal legislation acknowledges the importance of transparency and openness to the public through a legislated accountability framework. The accountability framework includes municipal elections every four years, at which time the public can hold councillors directly accountable for their actions.

In addition to that fundamental accountability mechanism, municipalities are subject to a number of other accountability measures. For example, section 239 of the Municipal Act, 2001 states that all meetings of council or a local board must be open to the public.

However, a meeting or part of a meeting may be closed for discussion of certain matters set out in section 239, including, among others:

    • security of property
    • personal matters
    • acquisition or disposition of land
    • labour relations
    • litigation and advice subject to solicitor-client privilege
    • education and training of the members of Council
    • requests under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (meeting must be closed in this instance)

Where a meeting or part of a meeting is closed to the public, all persons not specifically invited to remain by the Council shall retire from the Council Chambers.

Under sections 239.1 and 239.2 of the act, a person may request an investigation of whether a closed meeting complied with the Municipal Act and the municipality’s Procedural by-law. The municipality may appoint an independent investigator who may report with recommendations to council. If the municipality does not appoint an investigator, the Ontario Ombudsman may investigate.