Councillors call for pause on new security measures
OTTAWA -- Plans to beef up security in the council chambers at Ottawa City Hall are drawing criticism, with some councillors saying they are too restrictive and should be put on hold.
“We talked about making city hall a place for people again, and this is the opposite of that,” Coun. Shawn Menard said.
The changes, announced Friday and planned for the new year, include new security gates at the two entrances to the council chambers’ foyer, and security inspections of all purses, bags and coats.
There’s also a new list of prohibited items, including signs and banners, food and drinks, and noisemakers.
Menard said he’s concerned some of what’s being implemented could lead to reduced public participation at council meetings.
“Having your coat searched or not being able to bring food in the chambers…this seems to be an overreach to me that will affect democratic participation, not so much the security of councillors,” he said.
Menard and Coun. Jeff Leiper are calling for the planned security measures to be paused until council can debate them.
“The use of security gates to control access to the chamber poses both logistical and philosophical challenges to the workings of government,” Leiper wrote in a memo to Mayor Jim Watson and senior city staff. “It is only a matter of time before that access control is used unfairly against groups who have traditionally been marginalized in our city.”
Leiper said he acknowledges councillors and staff have safety concerns, but “there is a balance to achieve here, and the measures as proposed are more problematic than they are helpful.”
Other councillors are expressing support for the changes. On Twitter, Coun. Scott Moffatt wrote it’s not abnormal to have such security measures.
“What would you say if we did pull back on this and then something happened that could have been prevented?” he wrote.
The new security measures were announced just days after members of the public in the council chamber protested Coun. Rick Chiarelli’s presence at a meeting on Wednesday.
However, the city says they were in the works for some time, in response to an audit report on corporate security, tabled earlier this year.
The city says the process to screen visitors will take about one minute.