Del Grande Shut Down Meeting Illegally

Councillor Mike Del Grande broke the law when he arbitrarily shut down a budget consultation meeting that was attended by more than 100 people at the East York Civic Centre, says a report to City Council filed by the City of Toronto’s Closed Meetings Investigator, Lorne Sossin.

Sossin’s investigation was triggered when I filed a complaint against Councillor Del Grande the day after the January 19, 2011 incident. Sossin, also the dean of York University’s Osgoode Hall law school, found that while the impact of Del Grande’s poor decision is nebulous it nonetheless violates the rules in place to protect the public’s right to openness, accountability and transparency in decision-making.

I will comment on why I filed the complaint but first some background on what took place.

A cold winter night brought a standing room-only crowd out to the East York Civic Centre to comment on Mayor Rob Ford’s proposed budget. It was a testy meeting from the get go as Councillor Del Grande grouchily argued with attendees over all sorts of apolitical issues including whether residents could hear the evening’s proceedings. It didn’t help that most people were there to plead for their city services to be saved.

As the evening wore on, the crowd’s patience for Councillor Del Grande waned considerably. The last straw for many in the room was when the councillor cut off a couple of young people who were deputing about their experience participating in Toronto International Film Festival programming and went over their allotted five minutes. When Councillor Del Grande told the young deputants to sit down, residents shouted for him to let them finish. The crowd’s pressure worked. But instead of capitulating on the spot, Councillor Del Grande arbitrarily declared the meeting to be in recess without the required vote of his sub-committee. If that’s not weird enough, Councillor Del Grande then summoned his two sub-committee colleagues to a room behind the old East York council chamber. Three minutes later the meeting was back in session and Del Grande declared that while in recess the sub-committee had made a “decision.”

At that point it no longer mattered what Councillor Del Grande would decide was the fate of the young people from TIFF (he let them finish). The Scarborough chartered accountant who loves to talk about playing by the rules had just admitted that he broke them. Under section 190 of the City of Toronto Act there are seven legitimate reasons given for a meeting to be closed to the public, none of which include “feeling the pressure of 100 citizens after making a mean decision.”

Though Councillor Del Grande had literally engaged in backroom decision-making, it was obvious that nothing sinister, like the MFP scandal, was being plotted. Of my motivation for filing a complaint, I wrote to Sossin that “While the consequence of Councillor Del Grande’s actions may be minor in nature at this point in time, the act of improperly closing a meeting to make a decision that should have been made publicly defies all principles of open, transparent and accountable government.”

I was also motivated to file the complaint because less than 50 days into Mayor Ford’s term, it was already evident that transparency and accountability were two principles that would get short shrift in his administration. From Mayor Ford’s rule-by-fiat style of governing to the high-speed budget process that made fact-based discussion almost impossible to have, I felt it was vital to get the opinion of a respected legal scholar who cannot be dismissed as a partisan on the record.

It is my sincere hope that when this report comes up at City Council next week, Councillor Del Grande uses this opportunity to apologize to all those who attended the budget consultation on January 19 and commit to, above all else, providing open, transparent and accountable government.

Photographs by WhereIsAndrewNow