B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth defends government actions in the legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)

B.C. repairs COVID-19 emergency order for local government

Ombudsperson shut out as his recommendations implemented

A hastily imposed B.C. emergency order giving local councils authority to bar the public from meetings is being retroactively repaired by the NDP government, after B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke said it was done illegally.

Chalke found that two of B.C.’s orders in the coronavirus pandemic exceeded their authority, one covering local government and the other allowing courts and tribunals to waive statutory deadlines for submissions.

The order for local councils was rewritten in June after concerns that some municipal councils had shut their doors to the public for months, without electronic access. The revised version requires local governments only to make “best efforts” to allow people to attend meetings, and “best efforts” to let people watch and hear proceedings via video, audio or phone.

Attorney General David Eby has introduced Bill 19, the COVID-19 Related Measures Act, to change the laws that Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth overrode with public health orders. In an interview with Black Press Media, Chalke said Bill 19 addresses most of the problems he found.

It doesn’t change the suspension of public access to council meetings, courts or statutory decision-makers for environmental, forest and other permits, but Bill 19 makes that legal, and retroactively the actions that were taken under the orders will be legal once it passes. It also extends cabinet’s authority to continue emergency measures for up to a year without a province-wide state of emergency that expires every two weeks.

The order has left Vanderhoof, Masset and possibly other communities with no access to their local government for months, since the pandemic restrictions were imposed in mid-March. Chalke said he has received complaints about various municipalities in the pandemic, but he is prevented by his legal mandate from commenting on ongoing investigations.

RELATED: Masset working on phone access to council meetings

RELATED: Vanderhoof access plan begins after meetings closed

“When passed, that legislation will validate those orders and that will address any concerns that anyone might have had if they have taken steps under those orders,” Chalke said.

The key point of his investigation into the emergency orders was that the cabinet can’t issue new legislation without some kind of democratic oversight from the legislature.

“If they’re going to be in essence making statutes, we recommend that the minister have to report to the legislature, which is a feature that you see at the federal level, and secondly that orders expire after a certain number of sitting days,” Chalke said.

The expiry provision, or sunset clause for orders, is not contained in Bill 19, he said.

When Chalke’s report was released June 22, it contained an unusually hostile response from Farnworth. Instead of the standard minister’s acknowledgement of recommendations from an independent officer of the legislature, Farnworth’s letter accused Chalke of exceeding his authority under the Ombudsperson Act by commenting on emergency orders.

Farnworth had no difficulty imposing another sunset clause, telling Chalke he had been offered an opportunity for input into Bill 19 and “unfortunately that window has now closed.”

Asked about his authority to check up on emergency orders, Chalke said: “I’m fully confident that our investigation was within the authority that’s established in the Ombudsperson Act, but for interested readers we’ve set out our opinion at length about why we felt it was within our jurisdiction.”

That opinion is on page 15-17 of Chalke’s report.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislatureCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wings and Wheels fundraiser ready to roll in Abbotsford this weekend

Unique collection of cars invading Tradex for drive-thru experiences on Saturday and Sunday

‘Unusual smell in water’ not a health concern, says City of Abbotsford

Odour is just temporary due to treatment-plant maintenance, city says

‘Agitated’ man pulls out knife on 3 people in Abbotsford

Witnesses sought for incident on Monday night near city hall

Man charged with hit-and-run that killed pedestrian in Abbotsford

Man in his 50s died after being struck by vehicle on Highway 11 in October 2019

Fraser Valley Bandits reflect on 2020 turnaround

Abbotsford-based CEBL team goes from worst to almost first at Summer Series

Teachers to get 2 extra days to prepare for students’ return, now set for Sept. 10

Students will first start with orientation and learn rules of COVID-19 classroom policies

Hobo Cannabis renamed Dutch Love after backlash

Hobo Cannabis has various locations in Vancouver, Kelowna and Ottawa

More charges laid against man accused of killing Red Deer doctor in walk-in clinic

Appearing before a judge, Deng Mabiour, 54, rambled about being sick and needing a doctor

Driver maces pedestrian after hit and run in Langley City

Police were on the scene at Michaud Crescent Wednesday morning

Teen killer Kelly Ellard gets day parole extension, allowing up to 5 days at home

Ellard is serving a life sentence for the 1997 murder of 14-year-old Reena Virk

Andrew Scheer likely marking last day in House of Commons as Opposition leader

Today’s Commons sitting is one of two scheduled for August

Deaths feared after train derails amid storms in Scotland

Stonehaven is on the line for passenger trains linking Aberdeen with the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow

DFO says 5 aggrieved B.C First Nations were consulted on fisheries plan

Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations calls response ‘a sham,’ adding DFO never incorporates their views

Friends do ‘amazing’ home makeover for retired police officer

Pitt Meadows RCMP veteran was away getting treatment for PTSD

Most Read