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Ombudsperson: Working Group meetings on forestry future need not be public

The provincial Office of the Ombudsperson has ruled that meetings of a citizens’ forestry Working Group are not required to be held in public because the group was created by a consultant rather than by North Cowichan council.

“I determined North Cowichan and its Council had a limited involvement in creating the Working Group,” investigating officer Kate Morrison concluded. “Therefore, Community Charter section 93 does not apply to the Working Group and neither do its open meeting requirements.”

She added: “Council did involve itself in creating the Working Group by endorsing the Consultant’s draft engagement plan. While the draft plan which Council approved provided for the Working Group, this does not amount to ‘establishing’ the Working Group, especially because Council did not choose or confirm the Group’s composition.

“While the Working Group does provide advice in the form of feedback on the public engagement process, it does not provide that advice to Council. Instead, it provides the feedback to the Consultant, and thus cannot be understood as an advisory body of Council.” sought the investigation after consultant Lees & Associates refused to open up meetings of the citizens' Working Group guiding public consultations on the future of the 5,000-hectare forest reserve.

Members of the group voted 58 per cent to open up their meetings, but that was not deemed good enough.

Council has placed the public consultation process on hold pending secret talks with First Nations on the future of the forest reserve.

— Larry Pynn July 8, 2021


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