Last night’s meeting of Fort St. James Council devolved into chaos when mayor Rob MacDougall and the rest of council refused to allow citizens in opposition of a proposed By-law an opportunity to speak or to present their 326 signature petition to council.
The proposed By-Law in question (By-Law 989,2018, an amendment to Zoning Bylaw 738,2001)) reads:
“No Person shall use any land, building, or structure for the sale, commercial production or distribution of cannabis”.
More than 80 citizens of Fort St. James arrived at the municipal hall with the petition they had gathered after they became aware of the proposed Bylaw, something they claim only happened about a week after the town held a poorly attended public meeting on March 28.
“No one even knew about the public meeting. About half the town still doesn’t know this is happening,” said Greg Kovacs, one of the organizers of the group opposing the proposed Bylaw.
“They didn’t really tell anyone about what they were doing, they took out a couple of small ads and if you didn’t see them you had no way of knowing.”
The meeting started peacefully enough with the MacDougall and Council behaving as though they were oblivious to the crowd of citizens in the council chambers.
At one point the crowd grew so large that furniture was rearranged to make more room for protesters, and even so, almost 40 of the citizens were relegated to the hallway outside the chamber for a lack of room inside.
This prompted one of the people in the gallery to shout, are you even going to acknowledge that we’re here?”
The mayor did not respond, but the chaos began as soon after as the Bylaw came up on the agenda, at which time the mayor referred the matter to Chief Administrative Officer, Kevin Crook who explained that Council had followed proper procedures in holding a public meeting. He said that, while the procedure was not written in local government law, his review of case law indicated that no further input from the public should be allowed.
Crook apologized for not being able to cite any of this case law and one protester indicated that, if it existed Crook should have been able to put his hands on it for the meeting, given that he was “literally only a few feet from his office”.
At that point Kovacs spoke, calling the actions of the Mayor and Council unacceptable and an affront to democracy. He stated that the Mayor had promised him and others as late as that evening that they would be allowed to speak.
“Absolutely not!” shouted the mayor in response.
“Don’t put words in my mouth.”
AT that point the mayor called for the adjournment of the meeting which ostensibly took place as he then proceeded to shout over the protests of the citizens in the chamber, saying “This meeting is over!”
When the citizens refused to leave, MacDougall called for a motion to move the meeting “in-camera’ apparently forgetting that the meeting had been adjourned, meaning that no such motion could be invited or entertained.
Despite that fact, the council were in agreement and declared that they had gone “in-camera” at which time, after more debate with some of the citizens in the chamber, they began ushering the public and the press from the chamber, insisting that they leave or face the RCMP (who the mayor had threatened to call).
The citizens and press were expelled from the building and the doors locked.
“This council and the mayor don’t care about our town or the safety of our children. They are willing to leave the sale of marijuana in the hands of criminals and are willing to restrict medical marijuana, and they refuse to answer one question,” said Kovacs.
“That question is … why? What is behind this?”
Protesters have vowed to continue their opposition to the proposed Bylaw and one of the group, Anne Wilkenson said that the entire council is likely to face the consequences of their actions at the polls when the next election rolls around.