New Crowsnest Pass bylaw stirs controversy, residents raise concerns for freedom of speech

Crowsnest Pass municipal council recently passed Bylaw 1187, which amends the procedure bylaw to regulate that during the public input period of a meeting, an individual or group may not speak on the same issue more than once in three months.

This has created controversy among some locals, who are highlighting concerns about freedom of speech and opportunities for input on municipal decisions.

The bylaw passed third and final reading May 28 from a motion by Coun. Doreen Glavin, based on a recommendation from administration.

The specific amended language states that a speaker may “not speak on a topic in which they have spoken about within the last three months during public input,” according to May 28 council documents.

“If the public has a concern that they think they need to repeatedly be coming to council on, they should instead raise it as a delegation,” says Coun. Glavin.

Though the three-month repetition ban won’t affect delegations, they are subject to vetting and denial at the discretion of administration in advance of the meeting.

Previously, the public input period was less regulated, and residents could freely take complaints to the council during this time.

It is not common practice in all local governments to have a dedicated public input period in every meeting. Crowsnest council differs from Pincher Creek town and MD councils in its specific designation of this period in all regular meetings.

“We take a high level when it comes to public participation,” says Coun. Glavin.

But for some community groups, such as the Crowsnest Pass Taxpayers Association, as represented by president Carmen Roman, this new bylaw undercuts the community expectations of fair participation.

In a presentation to the May 28 council meeting, Roman questioned the implications of this decision on the community’s understanding of democracy.

“It does not reflect the democratic values established by the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass Public Participation Policy 1302-01, nor does it represent the democratic values legislated in the Alberta Municipal Government Act,” she said.

Citing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Roman referred to this as an infringement on residents’ freedom of speech.

“The Municipality of Crowsnest Pass Taxpayers Association acknowledges that local government officials are elected to make important decisions in the best interests of its citizens and for the community of Crowsnest Pass, but should processes and procedures not be conducted in a fair and just manner, it is important for taxpayers and all citizens to express their concerns to the elected representatives as outlined in the Municipal Government Act,” Roman said.

“To implement this bylaw would be viewed as retribution to the citizens of Crowsnest Pass.”

In an exclusive interview with Shootin’ the Breeze, Roman elaborated on her concerns, calling for the bylaw to be rescinded.

“Municipalities must work in partnership with these key stakeholders and ensure their voices are reflected in decision making,” she said.

She cited the Bellevue revitalization project, which, in her view, lacked public participation, approving designs without sufficient community input.

“There is a huge lack of trust in this council,” said Roman, which she says is a result of what she describes as retribution.

She said, “This is retribution towards the citizens of Crowsnest Pass. It is a way of not allowing people to speak to or be heard on issues and matters for which there should be a voice.”

She also described retribution to locally owned businesses, some of which Roman said were afraid of challenging council decisions because they were still in need of approvals or permissions for unrelated projects.

Roman believes the three-month period is enough to prevent an individual from ever having the opportunity to bring up unfinished business or concerns.

In an interview with Shootin’ the Breeze, Pat Rypien, secretary of the taxpayers association, questioned why a council that cares about public participation would put forward a motion to “inhibit it.”

“If a taxpayer comes to council, acts respectfully and has valid concern, expresses it clearly and without emotion, but then leaves unhappy, a compromise has not been reached,” she said.

Rypien said that this leaves the impression that council is making decisions without space for community input, creating what she described as an unhealthy relationship between community and council.

“We know that effective communication builds trust. Communication to the public is paramount,” she said.

“If council acknowledges the importance of public participation, then they have a duty and an obligation to allow public participation until the outcome is satisfactory to both council and the public.”

Mia Parker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze