Nanaimo mayor says stance on signs is about ensuring order

NANAIMO – Legal opinion shows presiding member, in many cases the mayor, can address public conduct in certain cases.

A stance on sign waving has everything to do with an “obligation to ensure order” in the council chambers, says Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay.

The City of Nanaimo has released an in-camera legal opinion, commissioned by the mayor to see if by trying to uphold a section of the Community Charter, he wasn’t also disregarding the public’s right to free speech.

McKay has adjourned past city meetings to deal with people in the gallery displaying signs or visual aids, including on Aug. 31. The moves haven’t been without challenges by council members.

According to the legal document, the mayor can address the conduct of those he sees as being disruptive to the business of the city, as long as he’s satisfied the person’s activity isn’t protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. An e-mail response to the City of Nanaimo from the B.C. government, however, also shows a councillor can appeal the mayor’s decisions or points of order.

McKay hopes the legal opinion provides a broader, more detailed explanation of how the Community Charter and charter rights apply to decorum in the council chamber. He will continue to invite people who wish to speak to council to sign up as a delegation, but waving signs isn’t the “prescribed method of communicating with council,” he said, pointing to issues of a safe and comfortable work environment and the ability of the community to participate in a democratic process unhindered by those who might oppose their views.

Coun. Gord Fuller called the legal opinion “inconclusive” and said if he feels that the mayor is abusing his power he will make a challenge.

“If someone is abusive then yes, have them removed,” he said. “If the cultural committee is there with a bunch of signs wanting us to support something should they not be allowed to do that? It’s all about context.”

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