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Don’t ‘make noise’ or you’re out

March 20th,2023 | Municipal News

The municipality of Low is trying to quell the craziness at public council meetings.

A new draft bylaw is on the table that would give Mayor Carole Robert, and any future mayors, the power to remove anyone from a public meeting for “shouting, heckling, making noise,” or “initiating debate with the public.”

It would also cap question periods at 20 minutes long and restrict members of the public from speaking at meetings, unless they officially register with the municipality beforehand.

“This is one of the most repressive documents I have ever seen,” said Low resident John Cameron, following a March 6 council meeting where councillors had tabled the bylaw. After a fiery meeting that had several angry residents protesting tax hikes, council decided to defer the adoption of the bylaw. This was just after Coun. Lee Angus told fellow Coun. Ghyslain Robert that he intended to vote against it.

“We need this bylaw to be unanimous, so let’s defer this and discuss it more,” said Coun. Robert.

In an interview with the Low Down March 9, Mayor Robert said the document is meant to help councillors understand their roles and lays out a formal procedure in which public meetings are to be conducted. She added that Article 10 of the bylaw pertaining to the restrictions on question period and the decorum of the public are to help maintain respect at public meetings.

“You want to have some kind of order and respect in regards to addressing a particular subject,” said Robert. “If you want an answer, there is no use in standing there screaming about it. You ask your question and, definitely, if we have the answer, we will give it right away.”

Robert said she has seen recently at council meetings issues being “blown out of proportion,” however she denied that the bylaw is a response to those intense meetings, where residents have been protesting large tax hikes and calling out council for mismanagement. She said that every municipality needs to pass a formal document that lays out how council should govern public meetings.

Within the bylaw is a provision that would also force members of the media to sign a document stating they agree to several conditions before being allowed to record audio or video in a meeting. The bylaw would also require the press to produce credentials from the Professional Federation of Journalists of Quebec (FPJQ).

Robert said she doesn’t intend to ask Low Down reporters to produce credentials. If a media circus showed up to cover a big issue, council would “definitely” require reporters to prove they are with a legitimate organization.

“It’s in the bylaw, but, for myself, I wouldn’t ask you for a press card,” she said. “This is something to protect the councillors.”

The FPJQ told the Low Down that it wasn’t particularly concerned about the bylaw, as media would still be “allowed on site and will be able to take pictures and ask questions.” However, the non-profit press advocacy organization said the bylaw could become problematic if a mayor “abuses” the power by expelling media or citizens for “illegitimate reasons.”

The federation said that the bylaw is similar to what other municipalities have recently adopted.

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At the Low Down, we are passionate about delivering quality local news to Gatineau Hills residents. But passion alone cannot pay the bills.

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