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

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

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: Vancouver Island in a January spike while B.C. cases decrease

Island’s top doc Dr. Stanwick breaks down the Island’s rising numbers

Comox town hall. Black Press file photo
Comox set to apply for two infrastructure grants

Sanitary sewer, sidewalk extension in the town’s plans

The number of reported assaults in Courtenay jumped from 302 in 2019 to 364 in 2020. File photo
Assaults up in Courtenay, according to police statistics

The number of assaults increased significantly in Courtenay from 2019 to 2020,… Continue reading

Sawyer, a northern saw-whet owl that became synonymous with Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society, passed away peacefully over the weekend. Sawyer would make numerous public appearances with MARS staff in and around the Comox Valley and Campbell River. Photo supplied.
Popular MARS ambassador owl dies

Submitted MARS Wildlife Rescue has lost one of its mightiest ambassadors. Tiny… Continue reading

442 Transport and Rescue Squadron from 19 Wing Comox assisted in helping an injured hiker down from the top of Mt. Benson near Nanaimo Jan. 23. Photo by 19 Wing Comox
With video: 442 Squadron assists mid-Island mountain rescue

The crew on the Buffalo hand-launched 15 flares

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Shown is Quality Foods at 319 Island Highway in Parksville. The Island-based grocery chain announced on Jan. 25 it made a $2-per-hour pay premium, implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, permanent. (Mandy Moraes photo)
COVID-19: Quality Foods makes $2-per-hour employee pay premium permanent

Island-based grocery chain had extended increase twice in 2020

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

The North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP have arrested a prolific offender who is now facing more than 40 charges. (Black Press file photo)
‘Priority offender’ arrested in Cowichan Valley faces more than 40 charges

Tyler Elrix, 37, had a history of evading police; was ordered not to be in Vancouver Island

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)

Most Read