Security measures being implemented at Tom Davies Square restricting media and public access during city council meetings are the most restrictive of any major city in Northern Ontario, says an informal survey of city hall reporters around the North conducted by NorthernLife.ca.
While rules vary, reporters in Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins, North Bay and Barrie all say they and the public have much greater access and freedom during council and committee meetings than measures being implemented at Tom Davies Square.
In fact, reporters from Windsor and Toronto say they face fewer barriers when covering meetings than those being imposed in Sudbury.
At a briefing Thursday, Brendan Adair, the new security supervisor at city hall, told reporters they would now be required to get ID cards if they want to get past the gate blocking access to the floor at council chambers.
In addition to giving significant personal information to get the ID cards, reporters now will have to sign in and out when going to meetings, and will only be allowed on the floor before and after meetings, and during breaks.
“The City of Greater Sudbury reserves the right to approve or deny any accreditation requests,” says the form Adair gave reporters. “Any accredited media who do not comply with the regulations will, without warning, have their accreditation withdrawn at which time a review will be conducted to decide the appropriate action and further status of the accreditation.”
Public access to committee and council meetings is now restricted to 15 minutes before the meeting begins, and the public is no longer allowed to go past the gate and on to council chambers at any time. Security guards will be placed at entrances to ensure no one enters carrying signs or dufflebags.
Media is only allowed to film and take photos from designated areas, and are no longer allowed to walk in the area behind the mayor's chair.
“There's a need for more control” during council meetings, Adair told reporters at a briefing Thursday. “We're trying to create a barrier between citizens and staff.”
Adair, who formerly worked in security for the Ontario Lottery and Gambling Corp., cited the fact that many northerners carry knives as one of the justifications for the need to tighten security.
Protests by the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty disrupted meetings in recent weeks, but Adair insisted the moves were not related to those or any other protests. Instead, he said it was a matter of “risk management” to protect politicians and staff.
The new steps are in addition to measures imposed on the media and public last year, when council chambers became provincial offences court during the day. The media table on the floor was taken away, with reporters moved into the public gallery.
Dennis Ward, a TV reporter in Thunder Bay, said they have a media table, and have free access to move around during meetings, within reason. Media has to sign in, but no ID cards are required and there are no restrictions on where photos can be taken.
In North Bay, the press also sits in the public gallery, but face no other restrictions. Sault reporters face no restrictions, and have a designated room with direct access to council floor.
Reporters in Barrie aren't allowed on the council floor during meetings, but have a media table and aren't required to wear ID cards or sign in. David Nickle, who covers Toronto city hall for Metroland, says they rent space from the city, and in return get ID badges that give them access to city hall after hours, to councillor's private offices.
“In the council chambers, those of us who rent space have seating in a specific area, but we're not limited to that,” Nickle said in an email. “We can move about, and so long as we're not being disruptive, go to the edge of the council chamber and speak with councillors.”
And Doug Schmidt, a reporter with the Windsor Star, says reporters there sit right behind councillors and are free to move and take video or photos where they want.
“When there’s a potentially volatile issue on the agenda, there is a city security official in the public gallery, sometimes one or two police officers (but for really, really hot issues),” Schmidt said in an email. “When big crowds anticipated, city firefighters sometimes set up at city hall main doors downstairs to monitor admissions.
“Hope what you guys seem to be anticipating doesn’t spread here.”
-Thunder Bay: Media has to sign in, but they have a media table on the council floor, and have no restrictions on their movements otherwise.
-Toronto: Media rents space, and wear security IDs. In return, they get after-hours access to city hall and councillor's offices. During council meetings, they move about as they please, as long as they're not disruptive.
-Sault Ste. Marie: No restrictions. Media table above the council chamber, with direct access to the floor. Can come and go as they please, even into the councillor lounge.
-Timmins: No restrictions.
-North Bay: Media also sits in public gallery, but no signing in, security cards or restrictions on movement otherwise.
-Windsor: Three media tables, behind councillors. No restrictions on movement of reporters or photographers.
-Ottawa: Dedicated media table on council floor, no ID cards or sign in, reports can move freely during meetings.