Both parties in a tense standoff – that resulted in RCMP officers being summoned to White Rock council chambers this week – are standing firm in their positions.
The call to police Monday evening came at Mayor Wayne Baldwin’s request, after resident and former councillor Margaret Woods did not heed Baldwin’s order to leave council chambers.
Baldwin’s order came after Woods exhibited what the mayor described as “disrespectful behaviour” during a public meeting towards a developer requesting a height variance for his property.
Though the RCMP officers left without intervening, Baldwin told Peace Arch News Wednesday that a section in the Community Charter gives officers the authority to remove someone who is “acting improperly.”
“They said they had not seen it first-hand, and were not prepared to act on what we had told them, they weren’t sure they had the authority,” Baldwin said, noting that he and the city clerk pointed out the relevant section under the charter to the officers.
“I hope that it never happens again, but I guess if it has to happen, (the RCMP) will be aware of their powers under the Community Charter.”
Calls to the White Rock RCMP for comment were not returned by PAN press time.
Woods, however, said her behaviour was not disrespectful “under any circumstances.” She said she was simply discussing her concerns about the proposed project and that public meetings such as the one Monday evening are the “one and only opportunity that the public has to make their opinions known to council.”
“They’ve taken away the question period at council meetings,” she said. “They couldn’t afford 15 minutes to give to the public to hear their opinions?”
According to municipal lawyer Jonathan Baker, a former Vancouver councillor, situations escalating in chambers to the point of RCMP presence being requested are rare, but not unheard of.
Baker recalled a few instances during his time on council in the late 1980s when proceedings were disrupted by protestors.
“These things do come up from time to time,” Baker said. “It happens everywhere. It’s not something that happens often, but it happens.”
Baker said a mayor is well within his rights to call in the RCMP to expel someone if it is felt that person is out of order.
“They have a duty to maintain order,” he said. “If he considers that the person is acting improperly, he may order them expelled. It is a matter of law and order, and it’s an important matter.”
Woods, however, said calling the RCMP to council chambers– is “never appropriate.”
(On Sept. 14, an officer was present when residents rallied on the lawn of city hall, and on April 10 Baldwin asked for an officer to attend a waste-collection vote after he said a councillor expressed concern.)
“It’s all about intimidation,” Woods said. “The people in White Rock don’t deserve to live in a police state.”
Baldwin said his actions aren’t meant to discourage debate, but he insisted respect be maintained:
“It’s one of the mayor’s roles to uphold governance in the chambers, and I believe I did that on Monday. I sincerely hope I never have the occasion to observe such disrespectful behaviour again.”