In a council chamber that can usually be described as placid if not sleepy, Monday night was certainly a stark change of events.
Sidney residents acted more like those from North Saanich who make a habit of calling out from the chamber chairs during meetings, standing, shouting at councillors and often leaving en masse when displeased. Often in North Saanich, residents yell insults at members of council.
Before Monday, this was certainly not the case in Sidney. Mayor Larry Cross told the Peninsula News Review he’d never seen such disrespect in his chambers.
There’s an argument to be made for having dialogue with council throughout a meeting. Public participation periods don’t let residents address issues as they come up as discussions progress. These shouts, while disrespectful, can be called part of important citizen engagement in our communities.
But there’s a fine line. Residents must be heard. They deserve the chance to have their say, such as on the zoning bylaw that was the subject of Monday’s raucous meeting.
When the shouts stoop to name-calling, insults and threats, that’s where the line must be drawn.
Cross struggled to regain control over the angry group of 60-plus on Monday and was chastized for his attempts to gag the dialogue coming from residents who felt this was their only chance to tell council how they felt about the bylaw. (Council wasn’t allowed to take feedback on the bylaw, according to community charter law.)
People need to remember council chambers are meant to be a place for civilized discussion – they’re not the place for emotional outbursts.
Councillors for the most part make themselves available to listen to residents’ concerns outside meeting hours. Failing that perhaps there are better ways to take concerns public. Picketing, anyone?