Concerns About Access Follow Guelph Chamber Debate

When it comes to local campaign, the major event of any race is the debate hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. But the Chamber is under fire from a couple of different corners after this past Wednesday’s debate, from accusations of not allowing access, to being undemocratic, to not being able to watch the debate live on Rogers.

On Wednesday evening, Ron East, who is a local advocate with the Council of Canadians, sent an email to members of city council, City of Guelph staff, and the media alleging that he and about a half dozen others were barred from entering the council chambers though they were only a couple of minutes late, and there were still seats available in the chamber gallery.

“When I tried to gain entry to the debate along with five other citizens we found the door locked and guarded by two armed policemen,” East explained in the email. “When we knocked to gain entry we were told discourteously that the doors were barred and we were refused entry, despite our protests. We were then instructed to leave the building immediately.”

“Since the debate has now taken place, I have been prevented by the municipal police from hearing my federal candidates views on important matters and have therefore been impeded from making an informed choice,” East added. “How can this happen? How can it be prevented from ever happening again?”

East, and everyone on the email, received a response from City Clerk Stephen O’Brien, who wasn’t at the debate, but shared East’s concerns about access.

At last night’s debate two Guelph Police Services (GPS) officers were hired by the Chamber of Commerce to support safety and security of attendees and federal election candidates,” O’Brien explained. “Miscommunication between the Chamber of Commerce staff and the GPS officers resulted in the doors to the Council Chambers being locked for approximately 30 minutes between 6:00 pm and 6:30 pm.”

“You, or any other Guelph residents, should not have been denied entry to last night’s debate,” O’Brien added. “That was a mistake and the Chamber of Commerce is committed to making sure that it does not occur in the future.”

Shakiba Shayani, President and CEO of the Guelph Chamber also responded to East and said that he was free to get in touch with her if he had any further concerns. East said that he was going to be meeting with Guelph Police representatives next week to discuss the matter.

But there was already controversy in the council chamber before the debate. Independent candidate Kornelis Klevering was escorted out of the debate by the two members of the Guelph Police before it began because he was promoting his own, separate all-candidates meeting on Thursday October 17.

Klevering, who appeared on Open Sources Guelph Thursday afternoon, was highly critical of the Chamber for not being more democratic, and only limiting the debate stage to the five major party candidates.

“They don’t understand that they’re the ones breaking the law because the chief electoral officer is very clear that candidates have an opportunity to meet the public, how are you going to meet the public?” Klevering asked. “There have been amendments made to the Canada Elections Act, and they say, ‘Oh, well, you’re breaking the rules!’ What rules? I’m just trying to reach out to the public.”

“The Chamber of Commerce is terrified of democracy. You saw that yesterday they had the candidates behind gates and the public were in the stadiums, and it was all so septical,” he added.

There were also some complaints online that people were unable to watch the debate live to air on Rogers’ cable access channel. The debate did air at 10 pm after the Guelph Storm game, and the video of the debate has since been posted in full, free-to-access on YouTube. Rogers has been criticized in the past for not allowing unfettered public access to their debate footage.

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