Council’s consideration of a court watch committee came as a surprise. We already have a tacit court watch committee with a mandate to sit in on court proceedings, to record what happens, and to inform not only Council, but the entire community. This tacit committee is our community newspaper, The Terrace Standard.
If Council’s concern goes beyond being merely informed about local court decisions, it could avail itself of opportunities to participate in the process as an intervener in cases of public interest. The rule of law encompasses a progression of appeals leading all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada should Council disagree with local decisions.
A court watch committee would be ineffectual if Council deems the law itself to be inadequate to deal with “ongoing anti-social behaviour and criminal activity”. The focus in that case should be on Parliament and not the court. In that case Council should engage the Union of B.C. Municipalities and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to lobby Parliament for changes in the law.
It would be rather unsavoury if the objective for a court watch committee were to provide Council with ammunition with which to apply political pressure on local judges. Neither the rule of law nor of justice is served by politicizing the judicial process.
If Council is interested in creating “an extra level of accountability” to leave the community “more informed as to what’s going on” Council may want to consider creating a council watch committee.
A council watch committee could attend all Council meetings, regular, special, in camera, and committee and use a regular spot in our community newspaper to inform citizens “as to what’s going on”. With the help of students and volunteers from the Coast Mountain College public administration program, this council watch committee could analyze routine Council decisions for their relevance to, and level of conformance with, the Official Community Plan (OCP). The OCP has four guiding principles: community vitality, prosperous economy, efficient resource use and clean energy, and community resilience. Under these four guiding principles, the OCP lists 56 objectives. The council watch committee could inform the community as to on how routine Council decisions relate to these objectives. Does Council keep the community on the right track to achieve them?
The council watch committee could monitor Council’s financial performance. The 2020-2024 Financial Plan lists three objectives and policies concerned with revenues. There are no principles, no objectives, and no policies to give citizens an idea about what Council’s spending priorities may be. Priorities speak not only to what will or should be done, but also to what will be left behind. Without a policy framework to guide spending decisions, what expenditure priorities and decisions led Council to conclude that it will need to increase revenues in each of the next four years?
Accountability and information within the realm of the common good are laudable goals. Accountability keeps citizens abreast of Council’s thinking. Without that knowledge, how can we be expected to make informed election decisions, if Council’s thinking and reasoning, and how Council goes about making decisions is obscure and left for citizens to guess?
Council should be applauded for its desire for greater accountability. However, before proceeding to scrutinize the courts, it ought to look in the mirror. A Council Watch Committee would be a start, and an asset to the community.