This post continues from my previous posts on transparency in London City Council. In the past posts I discussed the controversy surrounding a lunch 6 members of council participated in before the budget session February 23, and how the Ombudsman’s Office has opened an investigation into that event to determine if it meets the criteria of a meeting as defined by the Municipal Act.
I want to now go back to last fall and the events that lead up to the eviction of Occupy London from Victoria Park, the closed Council sessions that lead to the eviction, the complaints citizens made citing concern Council was making the decisions in private when the proceedings should have been made public, and the investigation the Ombudsman Andre Marin opened surrounding the events.
At the time, I was unsure of what to make of Occupy London despite the fact I, like people all over the world, were fascinated and energized by the Occupy movement started in New York City. To be entirely honest, I continue to be torn. I am sympathetic to their general message – income disparity is real and a real threat to the wellness of our society, too much control is in the hands of too few, etc. – without being sympathetic to some Occupy members in our city. I believe in the message, but not how it is delivered. I believe there are better ways to be involved in our community; awareness is a good start, but it must be followed by concrete action. For this reason I am excited by and participated in the Citizen Panel events that work parallel to Occupy, trying to find real solutions to the issue they raise. But this is also where I am most frustrated by some Occupy members – those that choose to attack and deride people like Glen Pearson, who have done so much to help those most in need, decades before Occupy began. I understand Occupy’s frustration both with City Council’s decision to discuss the eviction behind closed doors (the subject of the Ombudsman’s investigation) and the budget decisions made that will harm London’s most vulnerable – but this does not excuse the outbursts some Occupy members made during the long budget meeting last month. So, I am encouraged by their energy and message despite disagreeing on how they live it out.
For these reasons, I write this not to vent bias for or against Occupy, but to voice concern about how Council conducted themselves in having the closed meetings. If it is found that they behaved in an opaque manner, I think it should be very concerning for our city, especially when less than half of eligible London citizens chose to vote in our last election.
When these events were taking place last fall, I wasn’t very involved in London politics – despite studying planning at Fanshawe and going to a series of planning meetings at City Hall, learning about the Municipal Act, Official Plan Act etc. while in college, I haven’t studied London politics and proceedings as close as I could wish since then. This blog series is part of my effort to learn more about our city and the events and politics, and participate more both in understanding our past and in shaping our future.
To set the context of the Ombudsman’s report that is slated to be released later today, I have written a short timeline of events. This is by no means exhaustive, and doesn’t cover the swirling emotions and frustration happening in the city as the occupation of Victoria Park happened, when they were removed and the aftermath. For two excellent sets of London blogs on the subject, I’d recommend Gina Barber (@GinaBarber_W9)’s posts here and here and Philip McLeod (@philipmcleod)’s posts here, here and here. Here is a short time-line: *Note: I hope that these dates are accurate. I had some difficulty finding sources discussing the events with dates, particularly the timing of the eviction.
- September 17, 2011: Occupy Movement starts in Zuccotti Park, NYC.
- October 15: Occupy’s first Global Day of Action. 951 cities in 82 different countries around the world take part, at least 20 Canadian cities participate, including London. Occupy London begins.
- October 25: Mayor Fontana offers “cautionary support” of Occupy London demonstrators.
- October 28: Occupy London meets with London City Council.
- November 7: In-camera Council session occurs.
- November 8/9: Occupy London evicted.
- Complaints are made to Ontario Ombudsman about nature of votes that lead to the eviction of Occupy London.
- November 29: Ombudsman’s office launches investigation into closed-doors vote that lead to Occupy London eviction.
- December 7: City Council turns over documents to Ombudsman.
- March 1: Ombudsman’s report finalized, to be released to City Council.
- Council is adjourned for March Break, and won’t have time to read report before it is released. An extension could be made but it seems one wasn’t requested. Ombudsman says he is “baffled” by the decision.
- March 19: Ombudsman’s final report to be released.
Last week City Council and the Ombudsman made news as it was revealed that Council “baffled” Mr. Marin by not accepting the draft of his report detailing the investigation into London City Council’s conduct surrounding the decision to evict Occupy London from Victoria Park last November. As part of the investigation process, as a matter of “courtesy” those under investigation are offered a chance to read the report and offer feedback and propose changes before it is made public. The next Council session was happening the day after his deadline for releasing the report, and without guidance from Council city staff said they were unable to comply with his conditions. I find this decision very strange, as Council knew that this report was in the works for some time, and it was posted March 1st that the draft had been submitted to Council for their input. As Mr. Marin stated: “I’m actually a little baffled because . . . it’s to their advantage to get a heads-up on what’s about to come out and an opportunity to contribute to the final report,”.
So why does this matter? For me, this all returns to the importance of accountability from the people we elect – and the less transparent they are, the more citizens will be turned off from the entire political process. If our councillors and members of parliament (provincial and federal) aren’t accountable to us and conduct themselves in ways that attempt to avoid scrutiny, the less robust our system and our citizen engagement is, to the detriment of all. We need as much debate and discussion about our society and what we want to achieve; the less people connected and interested, the more we all lose. I hope that, regardless the results of Mr. Marin’s report, our Council works to operate in such a way as there isn’t even opportunity for these kinds of concerns, and we can encourage many more London citizens to the discussion. This is just one aspect of doing this, but citizens are skeptical enough about politicians of all levels as it is – if we can remove even one source of this cynicism, I think it would be to everyone’s benefit.
I will continue this post with an assessment of the Ombudsman’s report, after it is released to the public.