Ontario Ombudsman criticizes Hamilton Council for deleting livestream of committee meeting

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Published November 29, 2023 at 5:51 pm

Hamilton City Hall
Hamilton City Hall

The City of Hamilton has been chastised by Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube for permanently deleting the broadcast of a sub-committee from April right in the middle of Dube’s investigation into the City’s alleged violation of open meeting rules.

Dube’s office received a complaint from a Hamilton resident that the City failed to broadcast a livestream of its April 18 Agriculture and Rural Affairs Sub-Committee meeting. The citizen complained that he was unable to access the meeting online, contrary to Ontario Municipal Act meeting rules.

Dube received a link to the broadcast and was able to document it had indeed been livestreamed and was viewed 24 times but received “conflicting reports” as to the broadcast being ‘unlisted’ or available to the public.

As his office was reviewing the video, the livestream was deleted.

Dube was told that the clerk’s department deleted the recording in accordance with the City’s records retention practices at the time but noted in his letter to Hamilton Council that once an open meeting complaint has been received, the municipality “must preserve evidence in its possession.”

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube

“The preservation of evidence is not merely a procedural formality; it is an obligation fundamental to the required co-operation with my office during our review and affects my ability to make findings as a closed meeting investigator,” Dube said. “I understand that the City has amended its records retention by-law and now preserves the recordings of all sub-committee meetings, including the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Sub-Committee. In this case, there is no evidence that the recording was deleted with the intention to affect the outcome of my office’s review.”

“Nevertheless, the effect of the deletion was to frustrate my review.

Dube said it is “incumbent” on the City to ensure that staff are informed when an investigation is underway and that all evidence is properly preserved.

“The City should be mindful that it is an offence under the Ombudsman Act to willfully mislead the Ombudsman or to obstruct an Ombudsman investigation.”

Dube also noted in his letter that this was the second time his office had investigated Hamilton for a violation of open meeting rules, with the last investigation occurring in September 2022, also involving the same sub-committee and a meeting from March 29 of that year.

In both cases, Dube’s office decided not to take any further steps regarding the complaints.

Hamilton Council also took no further action and simply received Dube’s letter at the November 22 meeting “for information.”

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