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Councillor threatens to quit policing committee over secrecy

Karen Mackenzie
Northern News Services
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - City councillor David Wind said he may step down from the Yellowknife Area Police Advisory Committee if its meetings aren't open to public scrutiny.

"If it's all to be confidential, and the cone of silence comes down over the committee, I wouldn't be comfortable with that, and I couldn't see myself continuing to serve," Wind said during a council committee meeting last week.

NNSL Photo/Graphic
David Wind

"I recognize that there are times when it's not in the public interest to have discussions about police operational matters.

But if there's a concern with policing in the downtown area, or youth violence... legitimate public concerns and possible responses need to be discussed in public."

Wind is the city council representative to the committee, which was established in March 2005 to advise the city and the RCMP on policing and enforcement issues.

City council appoints its members, who include a downtown merchants' representative, a representative of the three school divisions and one member from the public at large.

Last Tuesday, council discussed the committee's revised terms of reference. Changes include provisions to add an additional member from the public at large, and to expand its focus to municipal enforcement issues, according to Jennifer Marchant, the group's chair.

Wind is primarily concerned with existing clauses stating that "copies of committee minutes shall be forwarded to the City of Yellowknife and the members of the committee in confidence," and that members are required to "ensure that all committee discussions regarding concerns and enforcement issues are kept strictly confidential."

He said he believes council has a duty to make the committee's business open to the community.

"Within the terms of reference as they are being considered by council, there are provisions that much of the business of the police advisory committee has to be kept confidential in order for the RCMP to feel comfortable discussing policing issues, some of which can be sensitive. That's difficult for a number of councillors, and difficult for me," he said.

"Since the committee is charged with putting forward public concerns and public issues, and how the public feels about the issues, there's no way that public priorities should come forward without the public having the opportunity to scrutinize that."

According to Marchant, the confidentiality clauses are necessary to maintain positive discussions with the RCMP, and to keep sensitive information regarding police operations from becoming public.

"It's so we don't create that barrier between the two organizations," she said. "It's not meant to take away from the knowledge of the community, but some of the material we're discussing might be a little premature."

Marchant said she will support whatever decision Wind makes.

"I think it's very courageous of him to say that from his perspective as a councillor he doesn't feel comfortable with it. I admire that," she said.

At the meeting, council discussed the possibility of making portions of the meeting open to the public. Sections pertaining to sensitive policing issues would remain confidential to the committee.

Councillor Lydia Bardak suggested implementing "stripped" and "limited" confidentiality, with "minutes that reflect what was done rather than what was said."

The council and the committee will now work together to update its policies.

"The terms of reference were being discussed by previous council and came to this council, and we're struggling now to get a version that's acceptable to everyone," Wind said.

"Those discussions will hopefully come to an agreement that we can live with."