From the federal level to the small-town council table, most Canadians pride themselves on the relative ease of access to information on how they are governed, which is necessary for informed voting. When a government tries to stem that flow, it is generally considered an affront to the people they purport to represent. That’s why there are strict rules around when government information can be kept secret.
Take in-camera sessions, for example.
For those who may not know, “in camera” is when information is discussed, and the public is not allowed to know what is happening. Journalists as well as the public are not allowed in council chambers at this time.
During the Athabasca County council meeting Aug. 30, council members attempted to get the public out of the room in an unconventional manner.
Coun. Travais Johnson mentioned that wanted to go in camera to discuss a presentation made by Janene Kargus, the campaign manager for the Athabasca Regional Multiplex.
After that, Coun. Dennis Willcott moved to accept the presentation as information.
While that motion was on the table, Reeve Doris Splane asked everyone who was not a council member or a CAO to leave the room because they were about to go in-camera. Our reporter asked if they were going to vote on that motion first.
The motion was then rescinded, and Johnson moved to go in-camera. The minutes cited Section 17 (4)(f), which allows in-camera discussions if a disclosure of personal information is an unreasonable invasion of a person’s privacy, with personal recommendations or evaluations, character references or personnel evaluations. Council voted unanimously for that motion.
After this strange sequence of events, council went in camera again when councils from the Town of Athabasca and the Village of Boyle popped by for a visit.
This left us scratching our heads.
Voters at all levels need to know what their elected leaders are doing when they meet and make decisions.
Closing doors should be a last resort, and rules around it should be followed to the letter of the law.